Pineal oscillator functioning in the chicken--effect of photoperiod and melatonin

Chronobiol Int. 2014 Feb;31(1):134-43. doi: 10.3109/07420528.2013.832279. Epub 2013 Oct 17.


The avian pineal gland, apart from the hypothalamic master clock (suprachiasmatic nuclei, SCN) and retina, functions as an independent circadian oscillator, receiving external photic cues that it translates into the rhythmical synthesis of melatonin, a biochemical signal of darkness. Functional similarity to the mammalian SCN makes the avian pineal gland a convenient model for studies on biological clock mechanisms in general. Pineal melatonin is produced not only in a light-dependent manner but also remains under the control of the endogenous oscillator, while the possible involvement of melatonin in maintaining cyclic expression of the avian clock genes remains to be elucidated. The aim of the present study was to characterize the diurnal profiles of main clock genes transcription in the pineal glands of chickens exposed to continuous light (LL) and supplemented with exogenous melatonin. We hypothesized that rearing chickens from the day of hatch under LL conditions would evoke a functional pinealectomy, influencing, in turn, pineal clock function. To verify this hypothesis, we examined the diurnal transcriptional profiles of selected clock genes as well as the essential parameters of pineal gland function: transcription of the genes encoding arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (Aanat), a key enzyme in melatonin biosynthesis, and the melatonin receptor (Mel1c), along with the blood melatonin level. Chickens hatched in summer or winter were maintained under LD 16:8 and 8:16, corresponding to the respective photoperiods, as the seasonal control groups. Another set of chickens was kept in parallel under LL conditions and some were supplemented with melatonin to check the ability of exogenous hormone to antagonize the effects evoked by continuous light. Twelve-day-old chickens were sacrificed every 3 h over a 24-h period and the mRNAs of selected clock genes, Bmal1, Cry1, Per3, E4bp4, together with those of Aanat and Mel1c, were quantified in the isolated pineal glands. Our results indicate that the profiles of clock gene transcription are not dependent on the duration of the light phase, while LL conditions decrease the amplitude of diurnal changes, but do not abolish them entirely. Melatonin supplied in drinking water to the birds kept in LL seems to desynchronize transcription of the majority of clock genes in the summer, while in the winter, it restores the pattern, but not the diurnal rhythmicity. Rhythmic expression of Bmal1 appears to provide a direct link between the circadian clock and the melatonin output pathway, while the availability of cyclic melatonin is clearly involved in the canonical transcription pattern of Per3 in the chicken pineal gland. Regardless of the experimental conditions, a negative correlation was identified between the transcription of genes involved in melatonin biosynthesis (Aanat) and melatonin signal perception (Mel1c receptor).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetyltransferases / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks*
  • Chickens
  • Down-Regulation
  • Light
  • Male
  • Melatonin / blood
  • Melatonin / physiology*
  • Photoperiod*
  • Pineal Gland / metabolism
  • Pineal Gland / physiology*
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Receptors, Melatonin / metabolism
  • Seasons
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Receptors, Melatonin
  • Acetyltransferases
  • Melatonin