Calcium and photoentrainment in chick pineal cells revisited: effects of caffeine, thapsigargin, EGTA, and light on the melatonin rhythm

J Neurochem. 1995 Sep;65(3):1332-41. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.1995.65031332.x.


Chick pineal cells in dispersed cell culture display a persistent, photosensitive, circadian rhythm of melatonin production and release. Light pulses have at least two distinguishable effects on these cells, i.e., acute suppression of melatonin output and phase shifts (entrainment) of the underlying circadian pacemaker. Previous results linked calcium influx through voltage-sensitive calcium channels in the plasma membrane to acute regulation of melatonin synthesis but denied a role for such influx in entrainment. Those experiments did not, however, address the role of intracellular calcium metabolism. Here we describe the effects of pulses of caffeine, thapsigargin, and EGTA on the melatonin rhythm, and their interactions with the effects of light pulses. Caffeine had two distinguishable effects on these cells, acute enhancement of melatonin output (attributable to phosphodiesterase inhibition) and phase shifts of the circadian pacemaker with a light-like pattern (attributable to effects on intracellular calcium). Phase shifts induced by light and caffeine were not additive. Thapsigargin (which specifically blocks the pump that replenishes intracellular calcium stores, thereby increasing cytoplasmic calcium and depleting intracellular stores) had no phase-shifting effects by itself but reduced the size of the phase advances induced by caffeine or light. Low calcium solution acutely suppressed melatonin output without inducing phase shifts or affecting those induced by caffeine or light. However, addition of EGTA (which specifically chelates calcium, thereby lowering cytoplasmic calcium and depleting intracellular stores) did reduce the size of phase advances induced by caffeine or light, in normal medium or in low calcium solution, without inducing a phase shift by itself at that phase. Taken together, these results point toward a role for intracellular calcium fluxes in entrainment of the circadian pacemaker.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caffeine / pharmacology*
  • Calcium / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chickens
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Egtazic Acid / pharmacology
  • Light*
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Pineal Gland / drug effects
  • Pineal Gland / metabolism*
  • Pineal Gland / radiation effects
  • Terpenes / pharmacology*
  • Thapsigargin


  • Terpenes
  • Caffeine
  • Egtazic Acid
  • Thapsigargin
  • Melatonin
  • Calcium