Journal of Neural Transmission

, Volume 119, Issue 10, pp 1085–1096 | Cite as

Circadian entrainment and its role in depression: a mechanistic review

  • G. S. LallEmail author
  • L. A. Atkinson
  • S. A. Corlett
  • P. J. Broadbridge
  • D. R. Bonsall
Biological Psychiatry - Review article


The natural rotation of the earth generates an environmental day–night cycle that repeats every 24 h. This daily transition from dawn to dusk provides one of the most important time cues to which the majority of organisms synchronise their activity. Under these conditions, natural light, a photic stimulus, provides the principal entraining cue. In mammals, an endogenous circadian pacemaker located within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus acts as a coordinating centre to align physiological activity with the environmental light–dark cycle. However, the SCN also receives regulatory input from a number of behavioural, non-photic, cues such as physical activity, social interactions and feeding routines. The unique ability of the SCN to integrate both photic and non-photic cues allows it to generate a rhythm that is tailored to the individual and entrained to the environment. Here, we review the key neurotransmitter systems involved in both photic and non-photic transmission to the SCN and their interactions that assist in generating an entrained output rhythm. We also consider the impact on health of a desynchronised circadian system with a focus on depressive affective disorders and current therapies aimed at manipulating the relationship between photic and non-photic SCN regulators.


Circadian Entrainment Depression Photic Non-photic SAD 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. S. Lall
    • 1
    Email author
  • L. A. Atkinson
    • 1
  • S. A. Corlett
    • 1
  • P. J. Broadbridge
    • 1
  • D. R. Bonsall
    • 1
  1. 1.Medway School of PharmacyUniversity of KentChathamUK

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