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Circadian Timing in Brain Circuits

23 - 25 April 2007

By invitation only

Venue: B10 Seminar Room, Alexandra House, 17 Queen Square, London, WC1N 3AR

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Supported by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation

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Now that we know about circadian clock genes and their cellular actions and can observe their activity not only in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) but also in the forebrain, it is opportune to ask “What might be the role of circadian organisation in higher neural function?” At one level it is clear that sleep as a circadian output dependent on the SCN is critical in maintaining human cognitive performance and that sleep-dependent regulation of synaptic function is an important likely contributor to this phenomenon. Equally, circadian control of neural processing may pre-adapt forebrain regions both in a general way to sustain higher or lower metabolic loads at different times if day, and more specifically to facilitate certain forms of time-of-day dependent information processing. The next level of analysis relates to mechanism. This may all be orchestrated by the SCN, mediated by both neural and endocrine avenues, but what about the potential for local cellular/ molecular clockworks to guide local programmes of information processing? The precedent here, of course, is the interaction between SCN-dependent signals and local tissue clocks in orchestrating vital circadian functions in the periphery. Does the visual cortex, for example, use its local clockwork to ensure that what it saw this time yesterday is easier to see this time today and tomorrow? Such clock-controlled temporal pre-adaptation/ selectivity may be a very efficient and pervasive mechanism in higher functions- all the SCN does is to ensure that these local programmes are held in synch. And what if the transcriptional output of the local circadian clock plays a part in long-term memory consolidation? How should we seek to model these processes, both in terms of molecules and as neural circuits?

Organisers: Michael Hastings, Stephen Williams, Erik Herzog, Christopher Colwell and Rachel Howes
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