Neurons in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) generate circadian changes in the rates of spontaneous action potential firing that regulate and synchronize daily rhythms in physiology and behavior. Considerable evidence suggests that daily rhythms in the repetitive firing rates (higher during the day than at night) of SCN neurons are mediated by changes in subthreshold potassium (K+) conductance(s). An alternative "bicycle"model for circadian regulation of membrane excitability in clock neurons, however, suggests that an increase in NALCN-encoded sodium (Na+) leak conductance underlies daytime increases in firing rates. The experiments reported here explored the role of Na+ leak currents in regulating daytime and nighttime repetitive firing rates in identified adult male and female mouse SCN neurons: vasoactive intestinal peptide-expressing (VIP+), neuromedin S-expressing (NMS+) and gastrin-releasing peptide-expressing (GRP+) cells. Whole-cell recordings from VIP+, NMS+, and GRP+ neurons in acute SCN slices revealed that Na+ leak current amplitudes/densities are similar during the day and at night, but have a larger impact on membrane potentials in daytime neurons. Additional experiments, using an in vivo conditional knockout approach, demonstrated that NALCN-encoded Na+ currents selectively regulate daytime repetitive firing rates of adult SCN neurons. Dynamic clamp-mediated manipulation revealed that the effects of NALCN-encoded Na+ currents on the repetitive firing rates of SCN neurons depend on K+ current-driven changes in input resistances. Together, these findings demonstrate that NALCN-encoded Na+ leak channels contribute to regulating daily rhythms in the excitability of SCN neurons by a mechanism that depends on K+ current-mediated rhythmic changes in intrinsic membrane properties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5132-5141
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number28
StatePublished - Jul 12 2023


  • NALCN channel
  • SCN
  • circadian rhythms
  • neuronal excitability


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