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Extraordinary behavioral entrainment following circadian rhythm bifurcation in mice.

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The mammalian circadian timing system uses light to synchronize endogenously generated rhythms with the environmental day. Entrainment to schedules that deviate significantly from 24 h (T24) has been viewed as unlikely because the circadian pacemaker appears capable only of small, incremental responses to brief light exposures. Challenging this view, we demonstrate that simple manipulations of light alone induce extreme plasticity in the circadian system of mice. Firstly, exposure to dim nocturnal illumination (<0.1 lux), rather than completely dark nights, permits expression of an altered circadian waveform wherein mice in light/dark/light/dark (LDLD) cycles "bifurcate" their rhythms into two rest and activity intervals per 24 h. Secondly, this bifurcated state enables mice to adopt stable activity rhythms under 15 or 30 h days (LDLD T15/T30), well beyond conventional limits of entrainment. Continuation of dim light is unnecessary for T15/30 behavioral entrainment following bifurcation. Finally, neither dim light alone nor a shortened night is sufficient for the extraordinary entrainment observed under bifurcation. Thus, we demonstrate in a non-pharmacological, non-genetic manipulation that the circadian system is far more flexible than previously thought. These findings challenge the current conception of entrainment and its underlying principles, and reveal new potential targets for circadian interventions.

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