Clock Gene Expression in the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus of Hibernating Arctic Ground Squirrels

Tomoko Ikeno, Cory T. Williams, C. Loren Buck, Brian M. Barnes, Lily Yan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Most organisms have a circadian system, entrained to daily light-dark cycles, that regulates 24-h rhythms of physiology and behavior. It is unclear, however, how circadian systems function in animals that exhibit seasonal metabolic suppression, particularly when this coincides with the long-term absence of a day-night cycle. The arctic ground squirrel, Urocytellus parryii, is a medium-sized, semi-fossorial rodent that appears above-ground daily during its short active season in spring and summer before re-entering a constantly dark burrow for 6 to 9 months of hibernation. This hibernation consists of multiple week-long torpor bouts interrupted by short (< 20 h) arousal intervals when metabolism and body temperature (Tb) return to normal levels. Here, we used immunohistochemistry to measure the expression of daily or circadian rhythms of the protein products of 3 circadian clock genes, PER1, PER2, BMAL1, and the neural activity marker c-FOS in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of arctic ground squirrels before, during, and after the first torpor bout of hibernation. Before torpor, while under 12:12-h light:dark conditions, animals showed significant daily rhythms in their Tb, as well as in protein expression levels of PER1 and PER2, but not BMAL1. Upon entering first torpor (Tb < 30°C), animals were moved into constant darkness. When sampled at 6-h intervals - beginning 24 h after the last light out, with Tb 3°C to 4°C - there were no circadian oscillations in PER1, PER2, or c-FOS expression. Sampling across 24 h during the first spontaneous arousal interval, c-FOS expression was elevated only when Tb reached 20°C and PER1 and PER2 expression did not show any Tb- or time-dependent changes. These results suggest that the central circadian clock might have stopped functioning during hibernation in this species, and the timing of arousal from torpor in arctic ground squirrels is unlikely to be controlled by the circadian clock within the SCN.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)246-256
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biological Rhythms
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • BMAL1
  • PER
  • SCN
  • arctic
  • c-FOS
  • circadian clock
  • hibernation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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