The mammalian circadian system, which is composed of a master pacemaker in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) as well as other oscillators in the brain and peripheral tissues, controls daily rhythms of behavior and physiology. Lesions of the SCN abolish circadian rhythms of locomotor activity and transplants of fetal SCN tissue restore rhythmic behavior with the periodicity of the donor's genotype, suggesting that the SCN determines the period of the circadian behavioral rhythm. According to the model of timekeeping in the SCN, the Period (Per) genes are important elements of the transcriptional/ translational feedback loops that generate the endogenous circadian rhythm. Previous studies have investigated the functions of the Per genes by examining locomotor activity in mice lacking functional PERIOD proteins. Variable behavioral phenotypes were observed depending on the line and genetic background of the mice. In the current study we assessed both wheel-running activity and Per1-promoter-driven luciferase expression (Per1-luc) in cultured SCN, pituitary, and lung explants from Per2-/- and Per3-/- mice congenic with the C57BL/6J strain. We found that the Per2-/- phenotype is enhanced in vitro compared to in vivo, such that the period of Per1-luc expression in Per2 -/- SCN explants is 1.5 hours shorter than in Per2+/+ SCN, while the free-running period of wheel-running activity is only 11 minutes shorter in Per2-/- compared to Per2+/+ mice. In contrast, circadian rhythms in SCN explants from Per3-/- mice do not differ from Per3+/+ mice. Instead, the period and phase of Per1-luc expression are significantly altered in Per3-/- pituitary and lung explants compared to Per3+/+ mice. Taken together these data suggest that the function of each Per gene may differ between tissues. Per2 appears to be important for period determination in the SCN, while Per3 participates in timekeeping in the pituitary and lung.
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