N-Acetylaspartylglutamate: A transmitter candidate for the retinohypothalamic tract

John R. Moffett, Lura Williamson, Miklos Palkovits, M. A.A. Namboodiri

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The retinohypothalamic tract is the neural pathway mediating the photic entrainment of circadian rhythms in mammals. Important targets for these retinal fibers are the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) of the hypothalamus, which are thought to be primary sites for the biological clock. The neurotransmitters that operate in this projection system have not yet been determined. Immunohistochemistry and radioimmunoassay performed with affinity-purified antibodies to N-acetylaspartylglutamate (NAAG) demonstrate that this neuron-specific dipeptide, which may act as an excitatory neurotransmitter, is localized extensively in the retinohypothalamic tract and its target zones, including the SCN. Optic nerve transections resulted in significant reductions in NAAG immunoreactivity in the optic chiasm and SCN. Analysis of NAAG concentrations in micropunches of SCN, by means of radioimmunoassay, showed approximately 50% reductions in NAAG levels. These results suggest that this peptide may act as one of the neurotransmitters involved in retinohypothalamic communication and circadian rhythm entrainment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8065-8069
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 1990



  • Circadian rhythms
  • Peptide immunohistochemistry
  • Suprachiasmatic nucleus
  • Supraoptic nucleus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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