Sensory input to the master mammalian circadian clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), is vital in allowing animals to optimize physiology and behaviour alongside daily changes in the environment. Retinal inputs encoding changes in external illumination provide the principle source of such information. The SCN also receives input from other retinorecipient brain regions, primarily via the geniculohypothalamic tract (GHT), although the contribution of these indirect projections to circadian photoreception is currently poorly understood.
To address this deficit, in the present study, we established an in vitro mouse brain slice preparation that retains connectivity across the extended circadian system. Using multi-electrode recordings, we first confirm that this preparation retains intact optic projections to the SCN, thalamus and pretectum and a functional GHT. We next show that optogenetic activation of GHT neurons selectively suppresses SCN responses to retinal input, and also that this effect exhibits a pronounced day/night variation and involves a GABAergic mechanism. This inhibitory action was not associated with overt circadian rhythmicity in GHT output, indicating modulation at the SCN level.
Finally, we use in vivo electrophysiological recordings alongside pharmacological inactivation or optogenetic excitation to show that GHT signalling actively modulates specific features of the SCN light response, indicating that GHT cells are primarily activated by crossed retinal projections. Taken together, our data establish a new model for studying network communication in the extended circadian system and provide novel insight into the roles of GHT-signalling, revealing a mechanism by which thalamic activity can help gate retinal input to the SCN according to time of day.
Hanna, L., Walmsley, L., Pienaar, A., Howarth, M. and Brown, T.M., 2017. Geniculohypothalamic GABAergic projections gate suprachiasmatic nucleus responses to retinal input. The Journal of Physiology, 595(11), pp.3621-3649.
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