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Neurochem Int. 1989;14(4):397-406.

Melatonin and its generating system in vertebrate retina: circadian rhythm, effect of environmental lighting and interaction with dopamine.

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  • 1Department of Biogenic Amines, Polish Academy of Sciences, P-225, 90-950 Lodz-1, Poland.


Retinas of rats, rabbits, chicks and carp possess enzymes, i.e. serotonin N-acetyltransferase (NAT) and hydroxyindole-O-methyltransferase (HIOMT), which convert serotonin (5-HT) to melatonin, NAT activity and melatonin levels, but not HIOMT activity, show distinct circadian rhythms, with peak values occurring during the dark (night) phase of the 12 h light-dark cycle. Exposure of the animals to light at night inhibited the night-stimulated NAT activity. Treatment of rats and rabbits with the dopaminergic agonist, apomorphine, inhibited the retinal NAT activity. Dopamine levels in the rabbit retina showed diurnal variations, with higher contents seen during the light phase of both the 12 h light-dark cycle with lights on between 06:00-18:00, and that with reversed periods of illumination (lights on between 18:00-06:00). Melatonin potently inhibited the electrically-evoked calcium-dependent release of [(3)H]dopamine from pieces of retina from both albino and pigmented rabbits. Our results indicate that the light-regulated melatonin-generating system does operate in the vertebrate retina. The present data, together with other findings, suggest that in the retina there is an antagonistic interplay between melatonin and dopamine. Thus, melatonin inhibits dopamine synthesis in, and release from, the retinal dopaminergic cells, whilst dopamine inhibits the night (dark)-stimulated melatonin formation by decreasing NAT activity. Since light increases metabolic activity of the retinal dopaminergic cells (it enhances the amine synthesis, levels and release), it seems likely that the retinal dopamine plays a role of a "light" messenger in the inhibition of melatonin synthesis. It is suggested that an interplay between melatonin and dopamine in the retina is responsible for regulation of those retinal events which follow circadian rhythmicity, and/or are dependent on light-dark conditions.

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