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J Biol Chem. 2009 Mar 20;284(12):7606-22. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M808394200. Epub 2008 Dec 22.

Night/day changes in pineal expression of >600 genes: central role of adrenergic/cAMP signaling.

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Section on Neuroendocrinology, Program on Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics, NICHD, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


The pineal gland plays an essential role in vertebrate chronobiology by converting time into a hormonal signal, melatonin, which is always elevated at night. Here we have analyzed the rodent pineal transcriptome using Affymetrix GeneChip(R) technology to obtain a more complete description of pineal cell biology. The effort revealed that 604 genes (1,268 probe sets) with Entrez Gene identifiers are differentially expressed greater than 2-fold between midnight and mid-day (false discovery rate <0.20). Expression is greater at night in approximately 70%. These findings were supported by the results of radiochemical in situ hybridization histology and quantitative real time-PCR studies. We also found that the regulatory mechanism controlling the night/day changes in the expression of most genes involves norepinephrine-cyclic AMP signaling. Comparison of the pineal gene expression profile with that in other tissues identified 334 genes (496 probe sets) that are expressed greater than 8-fold higher in the pineal gland relative to other tissues. Of these genes, 17% are expressed at similar levels in the retina, consistent with a common evolutionary origin of these tissues. Functional categorization of the highly expressed and/or night/day differentially expressed genes identified clusters that are markers of specialized functions, including the immune/inflammation response, melatonin synthesis, photodetection, thyroid hormone signaling, and diverse aspects of cellular signaling and cell biology. These studies produce a paradigm shift in our understanding of the 24-h dynamics of the pineal gland from one focused on melatonin synthesis to one including many cellular processes.

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