The endogenous melatonin (MT) signal facilitates reentrainment of the circadian system to light-induced phase advances by acting upon MT2 receptors

Chronobiol Int. 2012 May;29(4):415-29. doi: 10.3109/07420528.2012.667859. Epub 2012 Apr 10.


The indolamine melatonin is an important rhythmic endocrine signal in the circadian system. Exogenous melatonin can entrain circadian rhythms in physiology and behavior, but the role of endogenous melatonin and the two membrane-bound melatonin receptor types, MT1 and MT2, in reentrainment of daily rhythms to light-induced phase shifts is not understood. The present study analyzed locomotor activity rhythms and clock protein levels in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) of melatonin-deficient (C57BL/6J) and melatonin-proficient (C3H/HeN) mice, as well as in melatonin-proficient (C3H/HeN) mice with targeted deletion of the MT1, MT2, or both receptors, to determine effects associated with phase delays or phase advances of the light/dark (LD) cycle. In all mouse strains and genotypes, reentrainment of locomotor activity rhythms was significantly faster after a 6-h phase delay than a 6-h phase advance. Reentrainment after the phase advance was, however, significantly slower than in melatonin-deficient animals and in mice lacking functional MT2 receptors than melatonin-proficient animals with intact MT2 receptors. To investigate whether these behavioral differences coincide with differences in reentrainment of clock protein levels in the SCN, mPER1, mCRY1 immunoreactions were compared between control mice kept under the original LD cycle and killed at zeitgeber time 04 (ZT04) or at ZT10, respectively, and experimental mice subjected to a 6-h phase advance of the LD cycle and sacrificed at ZT10 on the third day after phase advance. This ZT corresponds to ZT04 of the original LD cycle. Under the original LD cycle, the numbers of mPER1- and mCRY1-immunoreactive cell nuclei were low at ZT04 and high at ZT10 in the SCN of all mouse strains and genotypes investigated. Notably, mouse strains with intact melatonin signaling and functional MT2 receptors showed a significant increase in the number of mPER1- and mCRY1-immunoreactive cell nuclei at the new ZT10 as compared to the former ZT04. These data suggest the endogenous melatonin signal facilitates reentrainment of the circadian system to phase advances on the level of the SCN molecular clockwork by acting upon MT2 receptors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Biological Clocks
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Cryptochromes / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Jet Lag Syndrome / metabolism
  • Jet Lag Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C3H
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Motor Activity*
  • Period Circadian Proteins / metabolism
  • Photoperiod*
  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT1 / deficiency
  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT1 / genetics
  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT2 / deficiency
  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT2 / genetics
  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT2 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiopathology
  • Time Factors


  • Cry1 protein, mouse
  • Cryptochromes
  • Per1 protein, mouse
  • Period Circadian Proteins
  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT1
  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT2
  • Melatonin