Brain plasticity, the ability of the nervous system to encode experience, is a modulatory process leading to long-lasting structural and functional changes. Salient experiences induce plastic changes in neurons of the hippocampus, the basis of memory formation and recall. In the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the central circadian (∼24-h) clock, experience with light at night induces changes in neuronal state, leading to circadian plasticity. The SCN’s endogenous ∼24-h time-generator comprises a dynamic series of functional states, which gate plastic responses. This restricts light-induced alteration in SCN state-dynamics and outputs to the nighttime. Endogenously generated circadian oscillators coordinate the cyclic states of excitability and intracellular signaling molecules that prime SCN receptivity to plasticity signals, generating nightly windows of susceptibility. We propose that this constitutes a paradigm of ∼24-h iterative metaplasticity, the repeated, patterned occurrence of susceptibility to induction of neuronal plasticity. We detail effectors permissive for the cyclic susceptibility to plasticity. We consider similarities of intracellular and membrane mechanisms underlying plasticity in SCN circadian plasticity and in hippocampal long-term potentiation (LTP). The emerging prominence of the hippocampal circadian clock points to iterative metaplasticity in that tissue as well. Exploring these links holds great promise for understanding circadian shaping of synaptic plasticity, learning, and memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFrontiers in Systems Neuroscience
StatePublished - Sep 19 2014


  • Circadian rhythms
  • Gating
  • Glutamatergic
  • Hippocampus
  • Iterative metaplasticity
  • Plasticity
  • Signaling
  • Suprachiasmatic nucleus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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