Melatonin feedback on clock genes: a theory involving the proteasome

J Pineal Res. 2015 Jan;58(1):1-11. doi: 10.1111/jpi.12189. Epub 2014 Nov 22.


The expression of 'clock' genes occurs in all tissues, but especially in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) of the hypothalamus, groups of neurons in the brain that regulate circadian rhythms. Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland in a circadian manner as influenced by the SCN. There is also considerable evidence that melatonin, in turn, acts on the SCN directly influencing the circadian 'clock' mechanisms. The most direct route by which melatonin could reach the SCN would be via the cerebrospinal fluid of the third ventricle. Melatonin could also reach the pars tuberalis (PT) of the pituitary, another melatonin-sensitive tissue, via this route. The major 'clock' genes include the period genes, Per1 and Per2, the cryptochrome genes, Cry1 and Cry2, the clock (circadian locomotor output cycles kaput) gene, and the Bmal1 (aryl hydrocarbon receptor nuclear translocator-like) gene. Clock and Bmal1 heterodimers act on E-box components of the promoters of the Per and Cry genes to stimulate transcription. A negative feedback loop between the cryptochrome proteins and the nucleus allows the Cry and Per proteins to regulate their own transcription. A cycle of ubiquitination and deubiquitination controls the levels of CRY protein degraded by the proteasome and, hence, the amount of protein available for feedback. Thus, it provides a post-translational component to the circadian clock mechanism. BMAL1 also stimulates transcription of REV-ERBα and, in turn, is also partially regulated by negative feedback by REV-ERBα. In the 'black widow' model of transcription, proteasomes destroy transcription factors that are needed only for a particular period of time. In the model proposed herein, the interaction of melatonin and the proteasome is required to adjust the SCN clock to changes in the environmental photoperiod. In particular, we predict that melatonin inhibition of the proteasome interferes with negative feedback loops (CRY/PER and REV-ERBα) on Bmal1 transcription genes in both the SCN and PT. Melatonin inhibition of the proteasome would also tend to stabilize BMAL1 protein itself in the SCN, particularly at night when melatonin is naturally elevated. Melatonin inhibition of the proteasome could account for the effects of melatonin on circadian rhythms associated with molecular timing genes. The interaction of melatonin with the proteasome in the hypothalamus also provides a model for explaining the dramatic 'time of day' effect of melatonin injections on reproductive status of seasonal breeders. Finally, the model predicts that a proteasome inhibitor such as bortezomib would modify circadian rhythms in a manner similar to melatonin.

Keywords: circadian rhythms; pars tuberalis; pineal gland; seasonal reproduction; suprachiasmatic nucleus; ubiquitin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Pineal Gland / metabolism*
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism*


  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • Melatonin