Seasonally breeding mammals use the annual change in the photoperiod cycle to drive rhythmic nocturnal melatonin signals from the pineal gland, providing a critical cue to time seasonal reproduction. Paradoxically, species resident at high latitudes achieve tight regulation of the temporal pattern of growth and reproduction despite the absence of photoperiodic information for most of the year. In this study, we show that the melatonin rhythm of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is acutely responsive to the light/dark cycle but not to circadian phase, and also that two key clock genes monitored in reindeer fibroblast cells display little, if any, circadian rhythmicity. The molecular clockwork that normally drives cellular circadian rhythms is evidently weak or even absent in this species, and instead, melatonin-mediated seasonal timing may be driven directly by photic information received at a limited time of year specific to the equinoxes.
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