• ATP;
  • glia;
  • oscillator;
  • pacemaker;
  • SCN2.2;
  • suprachiasmatic nucleus


The master circadian pacemaker located within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the mammalian brain controls system-level rhythms in animal physiology. Specific SCN outputs synchronize circadian physiological rhythms in other brain regions. Within the SCN, communication among neural cells provides for the coordination of autonomous cellular oscillations into ensemble rhythms. ATP is a neural transmitter involved in local communication among astrocytes and between astrocytes and neurons. Using a luciferin–luciferase chemiluminescence assay, we have demonstrated that ATP levels fluctuate rhythmically within both SCN2.2 cell cultures and the rat SCN in vivo. SCN2.2 cells generated circadian oscillations in both the production and extracellular accumulation of ATP. Circadian fluctuations in ATP accumulation persisted with an average period (τ) of 23.7 h in untreated as well as vehicle-treated and forskolin-treated SCN2.2 cells, indicating that treatment with an inductive stimulus is not necessary to propagate these rhythms. ATP levels in the rat SCN in vivo were marked by rhythmic variation during exposure to 12 h of light and 12 h of dark or constant darkness, with peak accumulation occurring during the latter half of the dark phase or subjective night. Primary cultures of cortical astrocytes similarly expressed circadian oscillations in extracellular ATP accumulation that persisted for multiple cycles with periods of about 23 h. These results suggest that circadian oscillations in extracellular ATP levels represent a physiological output of the mammalian cellular clock, common to the SCN pacemaker and astrocytes from at least some brain regions, and thus may provide a mechanism for clock control of gliotransmission between astrocytes and to neurons.