Indexed on: 12 Dec '12Published on: 12 Dec '12Published in: Journal of biological rhythms
In mammals, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is the central pacemaker organizing circadian rhythms of behavior and physiology. At the cellular level, the mammalian clock consists of autoregulatory feedback loops involving a set of "clock genes," including the Cryptochrome (Cry) genes, Cry1 and Cry2. Experimental evidence suggests that Cry1 and Cry2 play distinct roles in circadian clock function. In mice, Cry1 is required for sustained circadian rhythms in dissociated SCN neurons or fibroblasts but not in organotypic SCN slices or at the behavioral level, whereas Cry2 is not required at any of these levels. It has been argued that coupling among SCN cellular oscillators compensates for clock gene defects to preserve oscillatory function. Here we test this hypothesis in Cry1(-/-) mice by first disrupting intercellular coupling in vivo using constant light (resulting in behavioral arrhythmicity) and then examining circadian clock gene expression in SCN slices at the single cell level. In this manner, we were able to test the role of intercellular coupling without drugs and while preserving tissue organization, avoiding the confounding influences of more invasive manipulations. Cry1(-/-) mice (as well as control Cry2(-/-) mice) bearing the PER2::LUC knock-in reporter were transferred from a standard light:dark cycle to constant bright light (~650 lux) to induce arrhythmic locomotor patterns. In SCN slices from these animals, we used bioluminescence imaging to monitor PER2::LUC expression in single cells. We show that SCN slices from rhythmic Cry1(-/-) and Cry2(-/-) mice had similarly high percentages of functional single-cell oscillators. In contrast, SCN slices from arrhythmic Cry1(-/-) mice had significantly fewer rhythmic cells than SCN slices from arrhythmic Cry2(-/-) mice. Thus, constant light in vivo disrupted intercellular SCN coupling to reveal a cell-autonomous circadian defect in Cry1(-/-) cells that is normally compensated by intercellular coupling in vivo.