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Anatomical and functional demonstration of a multisynaptic suprachiasmatic nucleus adrenal (cortex) pathway


R.M. Buijs, as above. E-mail:


In view of mounting evidence that the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is directly involved in the setting of sensitivity of the adrenal cortex to ACTH, the present study investigated possible anatomical and functional connections between SCN and adrenal. Transneuronal virus tracing from the adrenal revealed first order labelling in neurons in the intermedio-lateral column of the spinal cord that were shown to receive an input from oxytocin fibres and subsequently second-order labelling in neurons of the autonomic division of the paraventricular nucleus. The latter neurons were shown to receive an input from vasopressin or vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) containing SCN efferents. The true character of this SCN input to second-order neurons was also demonstrated by the fact that third-order labelling was present within the SCN, vasopressin or VIP neurons. The functional presence of the SCN–adrenal connection was demonstrated by a light-induced fast decrease in plasma corticosterone that could not be attributed to a decrease in ACTH. Using intact and SCN-lesioned animals, the immediate decrease in plasma corticosterone was only observed in intact animals and only at the beginning of the dark period. This fast decrease of corticosterone was accompanied by constant basal levels of blood adrenaline and noradrenaline, and is proposed to be due to a direct inhibition of the neuronal output to the adrenal cortex by light-mediated activation of SCN neurons. As a consequence, it is proposed that the SCN utilizes neuronal pathways to spread its time of the day message, not only to the pineal, but also to other organs, including the adrenal, utilizing the autonomic nervous system.

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