Light stimulates the mouse adrenal through a retinohypothalamic pathway independent of an effect on the clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus

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The brain's master circadian pacemaker resides within the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). SCN clock neurons are entrained to the day/night cycle via the retinohypothalamic tract and the SCN provides temporal information to the central nervous system and to peripheral organs that function as secondary oscillators. The SCN clock-cell network is thought to be the hypothalamic link between the retina and descending autonomic circuits to peripheral organs such as the adrenal gland, thereby entraining those organs to the day/night cycle. However, there are at least three different routes or mechanisms by which retinal signals transmitted to the hypothalamus may be conveyed to peripheral organs: 1) via retinal input to SCN clock neurons; 2) via retinal input to non-clock neurons in the SCN; or 3) via retinal input to hypothalamic regions neighboring the SCN. It is very well documented that light-induced responses of the SCN clock (i.e., clock gene expression, neural activity, and behavioral phase shifts) occur primarily during the subjective night. Thus to determine the role of the SCN clock in transmitting photic signals to descending autonomic circuits, we compared the phase dependency of light-evoked responses in the SCN and a peripheral oscillator, the adrenal gland. We observed light-evoked clock gene expression in the mouse adrenal throughout the subjective day and subjective night. Light also induced adrenal corticosterone secretion during both the subjective day and subjective night. The irradiance threshold for light-evoked adrenal responses was greater during the subjective day compared to the subjective night. These results suggest that retinohypothalamic signals may be relayed to the adrenal clock during the subjective day by a retinal pathway or cellular mechanism that is independent of an effect of light on the SCN neural clock network and thus may be important for the temporal integration of physiology and metabolism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere92959
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 21 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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