Signaling to the Mammalian Circadian Clocks: In Pursuit of the Primary Mammalian Circadian Photoreceptor

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Science's STKE  06 Nov 2001:
Vol. 2001, Issue 107, pp. re16
DOI: 10.1126/stke.2001.107.re16

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The mammalian circadian system is critical for the proper regulation of behavioral and physiological rhythms. The central oscillator, or master clock, is located in the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Additional circadian clocks are dispersed throughout most organs and tissues of an animal. The most prominent stimuli capable of synchronizing circadian oscillations to the environment is light. This occurs through daily photic signaling to the SCN, which ultimately results in the appropriate phasing of the various biological rhythms. Two critical aspects of circadian biology that will be discussed here are photic signaling and the communication between central and peripheral clocks. After 10 years of investigation, the primary mammalian circadian photoreceptor remains elusive. Recent findings suggest that multiple photoreceptive molecules may contribute to the perception of environmental light cycles. In addition, the relatively recent identification of cell-autonomous peripheral clocks has opened up an entirely new area of investigation. Deciphering the communication networks responsible for harmonious central and peripheral clock function is a critical step toward the development of effective therapies for circadian-related disorders.

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