Swedish Medical Nanoscience Center, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet.
A central circadian (~24 hr) clock coordinating daily rhythms in physiology and behavior resides in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) located in the anterior hypothalamus. The clock is directly synchronized by light via the retina and optic nerve. Circadian oscillations are generated by interacting negative feedback loops of a number of so called "clock genes" and their protein products, including the Period (Per) genes. The core clock is also dependent on membrane depolarization, calcium and cAMP. The SCN shows daily oscillations in clock gene expression, metabolic activity and spontaneous electrical activity. Remarkably, this endogenous cyclic activity persists in adult tissue slices of the SCN. In this way, the biological clock can easily be studied in vitro, allowing molecular, electrophysiological and metabolic investigations of the pacemaker function. The SCN is a small, well-defined bilateral structure located right above the optic chiasm. In the rat it contains ~8.000 neurons in each nucleus and has dimensions of approximately 947 μm (length, rostrocaudal axis) x 424 μm (width) x 390 μm (height). To dissect out the SCN it is necessary to cut a brain slice at the specific level of the brain where the SCN can be identified. Here, we describe the dissecting and slicing procedure of the SCN, which is similar for mouse and rat brains. Further, we show how to culture the dissected tissue organotypically on a membrane, a technique developed for SCN tissue culture by Yamazaki et al. Finally, we demonstrate how transgenic tissue can be used for measuring expression of clock genes/proteins using dynamic luciferase reporter technology, a method that originally was used for circadian measurements by Geusz et al. We here use SCN tissues from the transgenic knock-in PERIOD2::LUCIFERASE mice produced by Yoo et al. The mice contain a fusion protein of PERIOD (PER) 2 and the firefly enzyme LUCIFERASE. When PER2 is translated in the presence of the substrate for luciferase, i.e. luciferin, the PER2 expression can be monitored as bioluminescence when luciferase catalyzes the oxidation of luciferin. The number of emitted photons positively correlates to the amount of produced PER2 protein, and the bioluminescence rhythms match the PER2 protein rhythm in vivo. In this way the cyclic variation in PER2 expression can be continuously monitored real time during many days. The protocol we follow for tissue culturing and real-time bioluminescence recording has been thoroughly described by Yamazaki and Takahashi.