Photoendocrine transduction in cultured chick pineal cells: IV. What do vitamin A depletion and retinaldehyde addition do to the effects of light on the melatonin rhythm?

J Neurochem. 1994 May;62(5):2001-11. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.1994.62052001.x.


Light has at least two distinguishable effects on the circadian rhythm of melatonin output displayed by dispersed chick pineal cells in static culture: acute suppression of melatonin output and entrainment (phase shifts) of the underlying pacemaker. Previous results indicated that these two effects of light are mediated by different mechanistic pathways. The pathways for the acute and phase-shifting effects of light either branch from the same, single photopigment or differ from the outset, starting from separate photopigments. If a single rhodopsin-like photopigment mediates both effects of light, then vitamin A depletion and retinoid addition should affect both responses in parallel, although not proportionately. We therefore compared the effects of vitamin A depletion and retinoid addition on the acute and phase-shifting effects of light under several experimental conditions. When chick pineal cells were depleted of vitamin A, acute responses to light were markedly reduced. Addition of 11-cis-retinaldehyde specifically restored (and enhanced) the acute response. When allowed to free run in constant red light, depleted cells displayed a rhythm of melatonin output with the same period as that of control cells. In contrast to the acute effects, phase shifts in response to 2- or 4-h light pulses did not differ between depleted and control cells. Addition of retinaldehyde to depleted cells did not, by itself, reduce melatonin output or induce phase shifts. Retinaldehyde did increase the acute response to 4-h light pulses but not the ensuing phase shifts. Responses increased with duration of the light pulse: Both the acute effect and the phase shifts induced by 4-h light pulses were considerably larger than those induced by 2-h (or 1-h) light pulses. Addition of retinaldehyde to depleted cells increased the acute effect of 2-h (or 1-h) light pulses to at least that seen with 4-h light pulses but did not increase the size of the ensuing phase shifts. These results strongly confirm previous dissociations of the mechanistic pathways mediating the acute and phase-shifting effects of light on chick pineal cells. They also support a role for rhodopsin-like photopigment in the acute, but not phase-shifting, response. They favor, but do not prove, the conclusion that separate photopigments mediate the acute and entraining effects of light.

MeSH terms

  • Activity Cycles
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chickens
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Darkness
  • Kinetics
  • Light*
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Pineal Gland / drug effects
  • Pineal Gland / physiology*
  • Pineal Gland / radiation effects
  • Retinaldehyde / pharmacology*
  • Time Factors
  • Tryptophan / metabolism
  • Vitamin A / metabolism*


  • Vitamin A
  • Tryptophan
  • Melatonin
  • Retinaldehyde