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Expression of the Circadian Clock Gene Period2 in the Hippocampus: Possible Implications for Synaptic Plasticity and Learned Behaviour


Genes responsible for generating circadian oscillations are expressed in a variety of brain regions not typically associated with circadian timing. The functions of this clock gene expression are largely unknown, and in the present study we sought to explore the role of the Per2 (Period 2) gene in hippocampal physiology and learned behaviour. We found that PER2 protein is highly expressed in hippocampal pyramidal cell layers and that the expression of both protein and mRNA varies with a circadian rhythm. The peaks of these rhythms occur in the late night or early morning and are almost 180° out-of-phase with the expression rhythms measured from the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the same animals. The rhythms in Per2 expression are autonomous as they are present in isolated hippocampal slices maintained in culture. Physiologically, Per2-mutant mice exhibit abnormal long-term potentiation. The underlying mechanism is suggested by the finding that levels of phosphorylated cAMP-response-element-binding protein, but not phosphorylated extracellular-signal-regulated kinase, are reduced in hippocampal tissue from mutant mice. Finally, Per2-mutant mice exhibit deficits in the recall of trace, but not cued, fear conditioning. Taken together, these results provide evidence that hippocampal cells contain an autonomous circadian clock. Furthermore, the clock gene Per2 may play a role in the regulation of long-term potentiation and in the recall of some forms of learned behaviour.

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