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Walmsley, L., Hanna, L., Mouland, J., Martial, F., West, A., Smedley, A. R., et al. (2015). Colour As a Signal for Entraining the Mammalian Circadian Clock. PLoS Biol, 13(4), e1002127.
Abstract: Twilight is characterised by changes in both quantity (“irradiance”) and quality (“colour”) of light. Animals use the variation in irradiance to adjust their internal circadian clocks, aligning their behaviour and physiology with the solar cycle. However, it is currently unknown whether changes in colour also contribute to this entrainment process. Using environmental measurements, we show here that mammalian blue-yellow colour discrimination provides a more reliable method of tracking twilight progression than simply measuring irradiance. We next use electrophysiological recordings to demonstrate that neurons in the mouse suprachiasmatic circadian clock display the cone-dependent spectral opponency required to make use of this information. Thus, our data show that some clock neurons are highly sensitive to changes in spectral composition occurring over twilight and that this input dictates their response to changes in irradiance. Finally, using mice housed under photoperiods with simulated dawn/dusk transitions, we confirm that spectral changes occurring during twilight are required for appropriate circadian alignment under natural conditions. Together, these data reveal a new sensory mechanism for telling time of day that would be available to any mammalian species capable of chromatic vision.