Purpose: Arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT) is a key regulatory enzyme in the synthesis of melatonin, which displays daily fluctuations in chicken retinal photoreceptors in vivo. The purpose of the present study was to determine if cultures of embryonic neural retina cells express diurnal rhythms of AANAT activity.
Methods: Cell cultures were prepared from chick embryonic day 6 neural retina and incubated for 4 to 8 days in vitro (DIV). Cells were incubated under a daily light-dark (LD) cycle and were harvested day and night. Culture conditions were modified to test the effects of cell density, serum concentration, incubation temperature, S-(4-nitrobenzyl)-6-thioinosine (NBTI), and taurine on AANAT activity. AANAT activity was assayed in cell homogenates by measuring the catalytic formation of N-acetyltryptamine from tryptamine and acetyl coenzyme A.
Results: Cells cultured in medium containing 10% fetal bovine serum (FBS) failed to show any diurnal fluctuation in AANAT activity on DIV 5 and 6. However, if the culture medium was replaced on DIV 4 with one containing 1% FBS, and 5 microM NBTI or 5 mM taurine, the cells expressed significant diurnal rhythms of enzyme activity. NBTI was more potent and effective than taurine. Culture conditions were optimized with respect to cell density, serum concentration, incubation temperature, and NBTI concentration. Under optimized conditions, overall cell survival and the density of photoreceptor cells were increased relative to that with the other culture conditions tested.
Conclusions: The results indicate that diurnal rhythms of AANAT activity are expressed in embryonic retinal cells incubated under particular culture conditions. The results show that the mechanisms regulating melatonin synthesis in chicken retinal cells are established during early embryonic life. This culture preparation will be useful in elucidating the photic control mechanisms involved in regulation of melatonin biosynthesis in photoreceptor cells.