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Biological Rhythms Workshop IB: neurophysiology of SCN pacemaker function.
Pacemakers are functional units capable of generating oscillations that synchronize downstream rhythms. In mammals, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus is a circadian pacemaker composed of individual neurons that intrinsically express a near 24-hour rhythm in gene expression. Rhythmic gene expression is tightly coupled to a rhythm in spontaneous firing rate via intrinsic daily regulation of potassium current. Recent progress in the field indicates that SCN pacemaking is a specialized property that emerges from intrinsic features of single cells, structural connectivity among cells, and activity dynamics within the SCN. The focus of this chapter is on how Nature built a functional pacemaker from many individual oscillators that is capable of coordinating the daily timing of essential brain and physiological processes.