In mammals, the pineal hormone melatonin is secreted nocturnally and acts in the pars tuberalis (PT) of the anterior pituitary to control seasonal neuroendocrine function. Melatonin signals through the type 1 Gi-protein coupled melatonin receptor (MT1), inhibiting adenylate cyclase (AC) activity and thereby reducing intracellular concentrations of the second messenger, cAMP. Because melatonin action ceases by the end of the night, this allows a daily rise in cAMP levels, which plays a key part in the photoperiodic response mechanism in the PT. In addition, melatonin receptor desensitisation and sensitisation of AC by melatonin itself appear to fine-tune this process. Opposing the actions of melatonin, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), produced by PT cells, signals through its cognate Gs-protein coupled receptor (TSH-R), leading to increased cAMP production. This effect may contribute to increased TSH production by the PT during spring and summer, and is of considerable interest because TSH plays a pivotal role in seasonal neuroendocrine function. Because cAMP stands at the crossroads between melatonin and TSH signalling pathways, any protein modulating cAMP production has the potential to impact on photoperiodic readout. In the present study, we show that the regulator of G-protein signalling RGS4 is a melatonin-responsive gene, whose expression in the PT increases some 2.5-fold after melatonin treatment. Correspondingly, RGS4 expression is acutely sensitive to changing day length. In sheep acclimated to short days (SP, 8 h light/day), RGS4 expression increases sharply following dark onset, peaking in the middle of the night before declining to basal levels by dawn. Extending the day length to 16 h (LP) by an acute 8-h delay in lights off causes a corresponding delay in the evening rise of RGS4 expression, and the return to basal levels is delayed some 4 h into the next morning. To test the hypothesis that RGS4 expression modulates interactions between melatonin- and TSH-dependent cAMP signalling pathways, we used transient transfections of MT1, TSH-R and RGS4 in COS7 cells along with a cAMP-response element luciferase reporter (CRE-luc). RGS4 attenuated MT1-mediated inhibition of TSH-stimulated CRE-luc activation. We propose that RGS4 contributes to photoperiodic sensitivity in the morning induction of cAMP-dependent gene expression in the PT.
© 2011 The Authors. Journal of Neuroendocrinology © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.