Chicken suprachiasmatic nuclei: I. Efferent and afferent connections

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Abstract

The avian circadian system is composed of multiple inputs, oscillators, and outputs. Among its oscillators are the pineal gland, retinae, and a hypothalamic structure assumed to be homologous to the mammalian suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Two structures have been suggested as this homolog—the medial SCN (mSCN) and the visual SCN (vSCN). The present study employed biotin dextran amine (BDA) and cholera toxin B subunit (CTB) as anterograde and retrograde tracers to investigate the connectivity of the mSCN and vSCN in order to address this issue. Intravitreal injections of CTB were used to determine whether one or both of these structures receives afferent input from retinal ganglion cells. Both the vSCN and mSCN receive terminal retinal input, with the strongest input terminating in the vSCN. Precise iontophoretic injections of BDA and CTB in the mSCN and vSCN were used to identify efferents and afferents. The avian mSCN and vSCN collectively express more efferents and afferents than does the mammalian SCN. A subset of these connections matches the connections that have been established in rodent species. Individually, both the mSCN and vSCN are similar to the mammalian SCN in terms of their connections. Based on these data and other studies, we present a working model of the avian SCN that includes both the mSCN and vSCN as hypothalamic oscillators. We contend that both structures are involved in a suprachiasmatic complex that, as a functional group, may be homologous to the mammalian SCN.

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