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Keywords:

  • circadian rhythms;
  • electrophysiology;
  • multiunit activity;
  • non-photic;
  • photic;
  • rat;
  • suprachiasmatic nucleus

Abstract

The mammalian circadian pacemaker is located in the suprachiasmatic nuclei. It can be shifted in phase by photic cues and by the behavioural activity of the animal. When presented together, light and behavioural activity attenuate each others' phase-shifting effect. Still unclear is how behavioural activity affects the suprachiasmatic nuclei and how it interacts with photic information. Previously, we reported the occurrence of behaviourally induced suppressions of neuronal activity. The present study investigates the characteristics of these suppressions as a function of circadian time and, additionally, in the presence of photic cues. We performed long-term multiunit activity recordings of neurons in freely moving rats and found that these suppressions of neuronal firing in the suprachiasmatic nucleus occurred at every phase of the circadian cycle. The magnitude of the suppressions showed a circadian variation, with larger suppressions during subjective day. When a light pulse was applied during a suppression, light and activity appeared to oppose each others' effects within the recorded population of neurons. The resulting discharge level appeared to be the sum of both responses. The opposing effects of light and activity were also found in single unit recordings, indicating that photic and behavioural stimuli interact at the level of a single neuron.