The circadian rhythm in mammals is under control of the pacemaker located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. This tiny nucleus contains a number of neurochemicals, including peptides, amines and amino acids. Heterogeneous distribution of these neurochemicals defines the substructures of the SCN. In the present review, functional significance of such neurochemical heterogeneity in the SCN is discussed in the light of circadian patterns of the concentrations of these neurochemicals in the SCN and their effects on SCN neurons in in vitro slice preparation. In particular, the hypothesis that the dorsomedial SCN is involved in maintaining the circadian rhythm, while the ventrolateral SCN is involved in adjusting the phase of the rhythm, is critically discussed. These considerations suggest that distinct sub-components of the SCN as marked by neurochemicals, interact with each other and this organizational architecture could be the basis of the proper operation of the circadian time keeping system in this nucleus.
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