Neurobiology of food anticipatory circadian rhythms
Circadian rhythms in mammals can be entrained by daily schedules of light or food availability. A master light-entrainable circadian pacemaker located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is comprised of a population of cell autonomous, transcriptionally based circadian oscillators with defined retinal inputs, circadian clock genes and neural outputs. By contrast, the neurobiology of food-entrainable circadian rhythmicity remains poorly understood at the systems and cellular levels. Induction of food-anticipatory activity rhythms by daily feeding schedules does not require the SCN, but these rhythms do exhibit defining properties of circadian clock control. Clock gene rhythms expressed in other brain regions and in peripheral organs are preferentially reset by mealtime, but lesions of specific hypothalamic, corticolimbic and brainstem structures do not eliminate all food anticipatory rhythms, suggesting control by a distributed, decentralized system of oscillators, or the existence of a critical oscillator at an unknown location. The melanocortin system and dorsomedial hypothalamus may play modulatory roles setting the level of anticipatory activity. The metabolic hormones ghrelin and leptin are not required to induce behavioral food anticipatory rhythms, but may also participate in gain setting. Clock gene mutations that disrupt light-entrainable rhythms generally do not eliminate food anticipatory rhythms, suggesting a novel timing mechanism. Recent evidence for non-transcriptional and network based circadian rhythmicity provides precedence, but any such mechanisms are likely to interact closely with known circadian clock genes, and some important double and triple clock gene knockouts remain to be phenotyped for food entrainment. Given the dominant role of food as an entraining stimulus for metabolic rhythms, the timing of daily food intake and the fidelity of food entrainment mechanisms are likely to have clinical relevance.