Chronobiology international

Rhythmic cFos expression in the ventral subparaventricular zone influences general activity rhythms in the Nile grass rat, Arvicanthis niloticus.

PMID 19916832


Circadian rhythms in behavior and physiology are very different in diurnal and nocturnal rodents. A pacemaker located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus is responsible for generating and maintaining circadian rhythms in mammals, and cellular and molecular rhythms within the SCN of diurnal and nocturnal rodents are very similar. The neural substrates determining whether an animal has a diurnal or nocturnal phase preference are thus likely to reside downstream of the SCN. The ventral subparaventricular zone (vSPVZ), a major target of the SCN that is important for the expression of circadian rhythmicity in nocturnal lab rats (Rattus norvegicus), exhibits different rhythms in cFos expression in diurnal Nile grass rats compared to lab rats. We examined the effects of chemotoxic lesions of the cFos-expressing cells of the vSPVZ on activity rhythms of grass rats to evaluate the hypothesis that these cells support diurnality in this species. Male grass rats housed in a 12:12 light:dark (LD) cycle were given bilateral injections of the neurotoxin n-methyl-D-L-aspartic acid (NMA) or vehicle aimed at the vSPVZ; cells in the SCN are resistant to NMA, which kills neurons in other brain regions, but leaves fibers of passage intact. vSPVZ-damaged grass rats exhibited highly unstable patterns of activity in constant darkness (DD) and in the LD cycle that followed. However, crepuscular bouts of activity could be seen in all animals with vSPVZ lesions. Damage to the vSPVZ reduced cFos expression in this area but not in the SCN. Using correlational analyses, we found that the number of cFos-ir cells in the vSPVZ was unrelated to several parameters of the activity rhythms during the initial post-surgical period, when animals were in LD. However, the number of cells expressing cFos in the vSPVZ was positively correlated with general activity during the subjective day relative to the subjective night when the animals were switched to DD, and this pattern persisted when a LD cycle was reinstated. Also, the number of cFos-ir cells in the vSPVZ was negatively correlated with the strength of rhythmicity in DD and the number of days required to re-entrain to a LD cycle following several weeks in DD. These data suggest that the vSPVZ emits signals important for the expression of stable diurnal activity patterns in grass rats, and that species differences in these signals may contribute to differences in behavioral and physiological rhythms of diurnal and nocturnal mammals. (Author correspondence: ).