In mammals, the autonomic nervous system mediates the central circadian clock oscillation from the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) to the peripheral organs, and controls cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal functions. The present study was conducted in mice to address whether light signals conveyed to the SCN can control peripheral autonomic functions, and further examined the impact of centrally administered melatonin on peripheral autonomic functions via activation of melatonin receptor signalling. In vivo electrophysiological techniques were performed in anaesthetised, open-chest and artificially ventilated mice whilst monitoring the arterial blood pressure and heart rate. Light induced an increase of the renal sympathetic nerve activity, arterial blood pressure and heart rate immediately after lights on. Conversely, light rapidly suppressed the gastric vagal parasympathetic nerve activity, which was affected neither by hepatic vagotomy nor by total subdiaphragmatic vagotomy. These autonomic responses were mediated by the SCN since bilateral SCN lesion totally abolished the light-evoked neuronal and cardiovascular responses. Melatonin administered intracerebroventricularly (I.C.V.) attenuated the sympathetic and vagal nerve activities in a dose-dependent manner with a threshold of 0.1 ng and these effects were blocked by I.C.V. pre-treatment of the competitive melatonin receptor antagonist luzindole. These results suggest that light induces sympathoexcitation and vagal suppression through the SCN and that melatonin modulates the light-induced autonomic responses via activation of the central melatonin receptor signalling.
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