The suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) of the hypothalamus contain a pacemaker that generates circadian rhythms in many functions. Light is the most important stimulus that synchronizes the circadian pacemaker to the environmental cycle. In this paper we have characterized the baseline neuronal firing patterns of the SCN as well as their response to light in freely moving rats. Multiunit and single-unit recordings showed that SCN neurons increase discharge during daytime and decrease discharge at night. Discharge levels of individual neurons that were followed throughout the circadian cycle appeared in phase with the population and were characterized by low discharge rates (often below 1 Hz), with a twofold increase during the day. The effect of light on the multiunit response was dependent on the duration of light exposure and on light intensity, with light thresholds of ~0.1 lux. The light response level showed a strong dependency on time of day, with large responsiveness at night and low responsiveness during day. At both phases of the circadian cycle, the response level could be raised by an increase in light intensity. Single-unit measurements revealed that the time- dependent light response of SCN neurons was present also at the level of single units. The results show that the basic light response characteristics that were observed at the multiunit level result from an integrated response of similarly behaving single units. Research at the single-unit level is therefore a useful approach for investigating the basic principles of photic entrainment.
|Number of pages||10|
|Journal||Journal of Neuroscience|
|Publication status||Published - nov. 1 1998|
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