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Ageing alters fundamental aspects of circadian rhythmicity in mammals; the effects include reduced rhythm amplitude and alterations in period length and in entrainment to the light/dark cycle. Such changes may reflect disruptions in cellular function within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the site of the predominant circadian pacemaker. In the SCN, vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP)-synthesizing neurones receive various inputs, including retinohypothalamic projections containing pituitary adenylate cyclase activating peptide (PACAP). SCN VIP cells establish connections with local neurones and send efferents beyond the nucleus. Considerable evidence implicates VIP and PACAP in circadian rhythm maintenance and/or entrainment to photic Zeitgebers. These actions involve members of a distinct family of receptors; mRNAs for two such receptors, VPAC2 and PAC1, are present in the SCN. This study used isotopic in situ hybridization to examine the effects of ageing on expression of mRNAs for VIP, VPAC2 and PAC1 in the SCN of male rats under a 12: 12 h light/dark cycle. Analysis of film autoradiographs from young adult (2–3 months) or aged (19–20 months) rats, at eight time points across the light/dark cycle, showed loss of diurnal rhythmicity and reduced levels for VIP mRNA in the aged group. A diurnal rhythm of VPAC2 receptor mRNA was present in both groups, but its levels were reduced in the aged rats. There were no differences between the two groups for PAC1 receptor mRNA expression. The present results indicate that ageing reduces VIP and VPAC2 receptor mRNA and eliminates diurnal expression of VIP mRNA within the SCN of aged male rats.