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Brain Res Mol Brain Res. 2004 Nov 4;130(1-2):109-14.

Effect of dark exposure in the middle of the day on Period1, Period2, and arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase mRNA levels in the rat suprachiasmatic nucleus and pineal gland.

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  • 1Neuroscience Institute, and NSF Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA 30310-1495, USA.


The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the mammalian hypothalamus contains a central circadian pacemaker, which adjusts circadian rhythms within the body to environmental light-dark cycles. It has been shown that dark exposure in the day causes phase shifts in circadian rhythms, but it does not induce changes in the melatonin levels in the pineal gland. In this study, we examined the effect of dark exposure on two "circadian clock" genes Period1 and Period2 mRNA levels in the rat SCN, and on Period1, Period2, and arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (Aa-Nat, the rate-limiting enzyme in melatonin synthesis) gene expression in the pineal gland. Period1 and Period2 mRNA levels were significantly decreased in the SCN after 0.5 and 2 h, respectively, therefore suggesting that changes in those mRNA levels may be the part of the mechanisms of dark-induced phase shifts. Period1 and Aa-Nat mRNA levels in the pineal gland were not affected by darkness, but Period2 was moderately affected. Since Period1 and Aa-Nat mRNA levels in the pineal gland did not respond to dark stimulation, we further examined whether the pineal gland itself is capable of responding to adrenergic stimulation at this time of the day. Isoproterenol significantly induced Period1 and Aa-Nat mRNA levels; however, it did not affect Period2. Although previous studies have reported that during the day the SCN "gates" the dark information reaching the pineal, our data demonstrate that dark information may reach the pineal during the daytime.

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