- Melatonin synthesis in the human pineal gland (2007)
- Poster presentation: The mammalian pineal organ is a peripheral oscillator, depending on afferent information from the so-called master clock in the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus. One of the best studied outputs of the pineal gland is the small and hydrophobic molecule melatonin. In all vertebrates, melatonin is synthesized rhythmically with high levels at night, signalling the body the duration of the dark period. Changes or disruptions of melatonin rhythms in humans are related to a number of pathophysiological disorders, like Alzheimer's disease, seasonal affective disorder or the Smith-Magenis-Syndrome. To use melatonin in preventive or curative interferences with the human circadian system, a complete understanding of the generation of the rhythmic melatonin signal in the human pineal gland is essential. Melatonin biosynthesis is best studied in the rodent pineal gland, where the activity of the penultimate and rate-limiting enzyme, the arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AA-NAT), is regulated on the transcriptional level, whereas the regulatory role of the ultimate enzymatic step, achieved by the hydroxyindole O-methyltransferase (HIOMT), is still under debate. In rodents, Aa-nat mRNA is about 100-fold elevated during the night in response to adrenergic stimulation of the cAMP-signalling pathway, with AA-NAT protein levels closely following this dynamics. In contrast, in all ungulates studied so far (cow, sheep), a post-transcriptional regulation of the AA-NAT is central to determine rhythmic melatonin synthesis. AA-NAT mRNA levels are constantly elevated, and lead to a constitutive up-regulation of AA-NAT protein, which is, however, rapidly degraded via proteasomal proteolysis during the day. AA-NAT proteolysis is only terminated upon the nocturnal increase in cAMP levels. Similar to ungulates, a post-transcriptional control of this enzyme seems evident in the pineal gland of the primate Macaca mulatta. Studies on the molecular basis of melatonin synthesis in the human being are sparse and almost exclusively based on phenomenological data, derived from non-invasive investigations. Yet the molecular mechanisms underlying the generation of the hormonal message of darkness can currently only be deciphered using autoptic material. We therefore analyzed in human post-mortem pineal tissue Aa-nat and Hiomt mRNA levels, AA-NAT and HIOMT enzyme activity, and melatonin levels for the first time simultaneously within tissue samples of the same specimen. Here presented data show the feasibility of this approach. Our results depict a clear diurnal rhythm in AA-NAT activity and melatonin content, despite constant values for Aa-nat and Hiomt mRNA, and for HIOMT activity. Notably, the here elevated AA-NAT activity during the dusk period does not correspond to a simultaneous elevation in melatonin content. It is currently unclear whether this finding may suggest a more important role of the ultimate enzyme in melatonin synthesis, the HIOMT, for rate-limiting the melatonin rhythm, as reported recently for the rodent pineal gland. Thus, our data support for the first time experimentally that post-transcriptional mechanisms are responsible for the generation of rhythmic melatonin synthesis in the human pineal gland.
- Ageing or NOT, clock genes are important for memory processes: an interesting hypothesis raising many questions (2010)
- Commentary on: Kondratova et al. Circadian clock proteins control adaptation to novel environment and memory formation. Aging. 2010: this issue. Key words: Memory, circadian, clock genes, ageing, rhythms, habituation, behavior
- Elevated rhythmic Ras activity in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of synRas transgenic mice: implications for the regulation of the mammalian circadian clock (2007)
- Poster presentation: Light is the main phase-adjusting stimulus of the circadian clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). A candidate pathway transmitting photic information at the postsynaptic site in the SCN is the extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK 1/2) which has been previously shown to be an essential element in the photoentrainment of the circadian rhythm. An upstream activator of the ERK signalling route is the small intracellular GTPase Ras. Here we observed that endogenous Ras activity in the SCN was subjected to rhythmic changes, reaching maximum levels at the late subjective day and minimum levels at the late subjective night (CT22). In order to investigate if Ras would modulate the circadian cycle, we used transgenic mice expressing constitutively activated Val-12 Ha-Ras selectively in neurons (synRas mice). In these mice Ras activity was also cycling during the circadian rhythm yet, Ras activities were up-regulated at each time point measured. We investigated if this change in Ras activity translates into a behavioral phenotype by monitoring free-running activity rhythms under conditions of constant darkness. SynRas mice exhibited circadian rhythms in locomotor activities similar to WT mice. However, when challenged by applying a 15 minutes light pulse at CT22 to promote phase advance shifts, synRas mice were completely non-responsive. As a first step towards the possible intracellular mechanism of this behavioral change we analyzed ERK1/2 activities in more details: We found a 1,7-fold increase of circadian peak levels of ERK 1/2 activities at CT10 and CT14 in synRas mice, while at minimum levels (CT18, CT22) no differences were found between ERK1/2 activities of WT and synRas mice. In WT animals the 15 minutes light pulse at CT22 resulted in rapid up regulations of Ras, ERK1/2 and CREB activities as described previously by others. However, in correlation with the lack of a behavioral response, ERK1/2 but not Ras and CREB activities remained unchanged in synRas mice, suggesting that Ras-dependent and Ras-independent pathways may co-exist to regulate ERK1/2 and behavioral phase shifts in response to the acute light treatment. Next we investigated the length "tau" of the locomotor activity rhythm during constant darkness and found a slight shortening by about 10 minutes in synRas mice as compared to the WT littermates. Recently, "tau" has been discussed to be modulated by the interaction between glycogen synthase 3beta (GSK3beta) and a clock gene product (Per 2) that is involved in the determination of circadian phase durations. We describe here a down-regulation of GSK3beta phosphorylation in synRas mice as a possible mechanism of "tau" shortening. Taken together, cycling of Ras activity at elevated levels in the SCN during the circadian rhythm results in a distinct pattern of behavioral phenotype changes correlating with de-regulated ERK1/2 or GSK3beta activities.