Student thesis: Phd


The daily variation in background light intensity (irradiance) can entrain the endogenous clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) to the external environment. The only source of this photic information in mammals is the eye, which is primarily a visual organ. It is therefore highly specialised to detect high frequency spatiotemporal modulations. This together with the adaptation which occurs within the retina could be present difficulties when encoding global irradiance. This raises the question of whether spatial patterns, which are present in our everyday viewing, might affect the ability of the SCN to receive 'true irradiance' signals and entrain to the external environment.My first approach was to determine whether individual SCN cells might receive a 'true irradiance' signal. To this end I mapped and characterised the receptive field properties of SCN neurons using in vivo electrophysiology. Indeed a handful of neurons (full field cells) responded to light anywhere in the visual scene and thus may act as 'irradiance detectors'. However, the vast majority of cells only sampled local radiance from a limited area of the visual scene.Having mapped the receptive field properties it became clear that cells which sampled from a limited area of the visual scene would be sensitive to spatial contrast (patterns). To examine the effect of spatiotemporal contrast on the SCN I examined two SCN outputs: locomotor activity and neuronal firing rates. Although spatiotemporal modulation in light intensity could induce large amplitude oscillations in neuronal activity; the time averaged firing rate and locomotor activity, which are believed to be determined by irradiance, were largely unaffected by spatial patterns. This led to the conclusion that the SCN can multiplex photic information into information regarding irradiance, and spatial information by encoding them under different timescales.Melanopsin has been heralded as the key photopigment for encoding irradiance and entraining the SCN. However such experiments have been only performed using diffuse light stimuli. Here I investigated the role of melanopsin under natural viewing conditions which incorporated spatial patterns. Under such stimuli the SCN response can be almost entirely accounted for by the melanopic irradiance of the stimuli.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRobert Lucas (Supervisor), Rasmus Petersen (Supervisor) & Marcelo Montemurro (Supervisor)


  • spatial patterns
  • circadian
  • suprachiasmatic nucleus
  • electrophysiology
  • melanopsin

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