Basis of robustness and resilience in the suprachiasmatic nucleus: Individual neurons form nodes in circuits that cycle daily

Matthew P. Butler, Rae Silver

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


How the cellular elements of the SCN are synchronized to each other is not well understood. We explore circadian oscillations manifest at the level of the cell, the tissue, and the whole animal to better understand intra-SCN synchrony and master clock function of the nucleus. At each level of analysis, responses to variations in operating environment (robustness), and following damage to components of the system (resilience), provide insight into the mechanisms whereby the SCN orchestrates circadian timing. Tissue level rhythmicity reveals circuits associated with an orderly spatiotemporal daily pattern of activity that is not predictable from their cellular elements. Specifically, in stable state, some SCN regions express low amplitude or undetectable rhythms in clock gene expression while others produce high amplitude oscillations. Within the SCN, clock gene expression follows a spatially ordered, repeated pattern of activation and inactivation. This pattern of activation is plastic and subserves responses to changes in external and internal conditions. Just as daily rhythms at the cellular level depend on sequential expression and interaction of clock genes, so too do rhythms at the SCN tissue level depend on sequential activation of local nodes. We hypothesize that individual neurons are organized into nodes that are themselves sequentially activated across the volume of the SCN in a cycle that repeats on a daily basis. We further propose that robustness is expressed in the ability of the SCN to sustain rhythmicity over a wide range of internal and external conditions, and that this reflects plasticity of the underlying nodes and circuits. Resilience is expressed in the ability of SCN cells to oscillate and to sustain activity-related rhythms at the behavioral level. Importantly, other aspects of pacemaker function remain to be examined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)340-352
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of biological rhythms
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • C]ircadian
  • Connectome
  • Coupling
  • Emergent properties
  • Network plasticity
  • Node

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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