PerspectiveNeuroscience

Many paths to preserve the body clock

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Science  11 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 124-125
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav9706

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Summary

Robust daily oscillations in behavior, physiology, and biochemistry are driven by endogenous timekeeping machinery called the circadian clocks. Circadian clocks in mammals were originally considered properties of the nervous system, and the anatomical locus of this clock was determined to be the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus. The neurons that make up this structure are highly interconnected (coupled) and exhibit robust and coordinated rhythms of activity, and loss of rhythmicity results in loss of behavioral rhythms such as daily activity. On page 187 of this issue, Brancaccio et al. (1) reveal that SCNs that have been rendered “clockless” through genetic perturbation in mice can be restored to rhythmicity by rescuing the clocks in only the astrocytes, a type of glial cell. The idea that rhythmic astrocytes are sufficient to generate a functional circadian clock that can control behavioral rhythms is surprising and suggests that the SCN can produce rhythms by means of more than one mechanism.