PublicationsA network of (autonomic) clock outputs.
The circadian clock in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) is composed of thousands of oscillator neurons, each dependent on the cell-autonomous action of a defined set of circadian clock genes. A major question is still how these individual oscillators are organized into a biological clock that produces a coherent output capable of timing all the different daily changes in behavior and physiology. We investigated which anatomical connections and neurotransmitters are used by the biological clock to control the daily release pattern of a number of hormones. The picture that emerged shows projections contacting target neurons in the medial hypothalamus surrounding the SCN. The activity of these pre-autonomic and neuro-endocrine target neurons is controlled by differentially timed waves of vasopressin, GABA, and glutamate release from SCN terminals, among other factors. Together our data indicate that, with regard to the timing of their main release period within the LD cycle, at least four subpopulations of SCN neurons should be discernible. The different subgroups do not necessarily follow the phenotypic differences among SCN neurons. Thus, different subgroups can be found within neuron populations containing the same neurotransmitter. Remarkably, a similar distinction of four differentially timed subpopulations of SCN neurons was recently also discovered in experiments determining the temporal patterns of rhythmicity in individual SCN neurons by way of the electrophysiology or clock gene expression. Moreover, the specialization of the SCN may go as far as a single body structure, i.e., the SCN seems to contain neurons that specifically target the liver, pineal gland, and adrenal gland.