46 Scopus citations


In mammals, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus coordinates daily rhythms including sleep-wake, hormone release, and gene expression. The cells of the SCN must synchronize to each other to drive these circadian rhythms in the rest of the body. The ontogeny of circadian cycling and intercellular coupling in the SCN remains poorly understood. Recent in vitro studies have recorded circadian rhythms from the whole embryonic SCN. Here, we tracked the onset and precision of rhythms in PERIOD2 (PER2), a clock protein, within the SCN isolated from embryonic and postnatal mice of undetermined sex. We found that a few SCN cells developed circadian periodicity in PER2 by 14.5 d after mating (E14.5) with no evidence for daily cycling on E13.5. On E15.5, the fraction of competent oscillators increased dramatically corresponding with stabilization of their circadian periods. The cells of the SCN harvested at E15.5 expressed sustained, synchronous daily rhythms. By postnatal day 2 (P2), SCN oscillators displayed the daily, dorsal-ventral phase wave in clock gene expression typical of the adult SCN. Strikingly, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), a neuropeptide critical for synchrony in the adult SCN, and its receptor, VPAC2R, reached detectable levels after birth and after the onset of circadian synchrony. Antagonists of GABA or VIP signaling or action potentials did not disrupt circadian synchrony in the E15.5 SCN. We conclude that endogenous daily rhythms in the fetal SCN begin with few noisy oscillators on E14.5, followed by widespread oscillations that rapidly synchronize on E15.5 by an unknown mechanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1326-1334
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 7 2018


  • Clock genes
  • Ontogeny
  • VIP


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