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J Neuroendocrinol. 1991 Jun 1;3(3):331-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.1991.tb00283.x.

Occlusion of the melatonin-free interval blocks the short day gonadal response of the male Syrian hamster to programmed melatonin infusions of necessary duration and amplitude.

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Department of Anatomy, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DY, UK.


Photoperiodic control of the neuroendocrine axis is mediated by changes in the duration of the nocturnal melatonin signal. This study tested the hypothesis that reading of the signal depends upon the presence of a period free of melatonin between successive signals. Adult male Syrian hamsters were pinealectomized and received chronic subcutaneous infusions of melatonin or saline for 6 weeks. Animals which received saline had large testes. Those which received a single daily infusion which lasted for 10 h (50 ng/h) followed by 14 h without infusion underwent gonadal atrophy. Other animals received a compound melatonin signal in which the melatonin-free interval was occluded by a continuous infusion (25 ng/h). Superimposed upon this was a 10 h phasic increase in infusion rate such that the maximum rate of infusion was equivalent to that observed in controls (25 ng/h increase, 50 ng/h peak rate), or the increase in rate over the baseline was the same as in controls (50 ng/h increase, 75 ng/h peak rate). In neither group did the animals undergo gonadal regression. Analysis of iodomelatonin binding sites by in vitro autoradiography failed to reveal any systematic difference between animals which did and did not respond to melatonin and so the absence of a response could not be attributed to loss of receptors. These data demonstrate that the photoperiodic system cannot identify the melatonin signal solely upon the features of nocturnal peak height or amplitude of the peak over baseline. They are consistent with the hypothesis that the melatonin-free interval plays a significant role in photoperiodic time measurement.

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