The suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) of the hypothalamus comprise the primary pacemaker responsible for generation of circadian rhythms in mammals. Light stimuli that synchronize this circadian clock induce expression of the c-fos gene in rodent SCN, which suggests a possible role for Fos in circadian entrainment. Appropriate light stimuli also induce the expression of jun-B messenger RNA in the SCN of golden hamsters but only slightly elevate c-jun messenger RNA levels. In addition, light increases the amount of a protein complex in the SCN that binds specifically to sites on DNA known to mediate regulation by the AP-1 transcription factor. The photic regulation of both jun-B messenger RNA expression and AP-1 binding activity is dependent on circadian phase: only light stimuli that shift behavioral rhythms induce jun-B and AP-1 expression. Thus, light and the circadian pacemaker interact to regulate a specific set of immediate-early genes in the SCN that may participate in entrainment of the circadian clock.
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