A new procedure with the G280 antibody of Kennaway provides an assay for circulating melatonin (aMT) with a sample volume (200 microliters), an analytic (0.33 pg/ml) and functional (0.62-0.80 pg/ml) detectability, a 50% displacement dose (6.4 pg/ml), a Kd (0.657 pM), and measured circulating daytime levels lower than reported for previous procedures, and 100% assay recovery. The normal daytime range in adult human and Syrian hamster serum was 0.4-4 pg/ml. The pattern of fall of the nocturnal surge of Syrian hamster serum aMT near the time of lights-on was unaltered by extended darkness. Isoproterenol (ISO) injection 1 hr after lights-on, when aMT had reached daytime levels, raised serum and pineal aMT dramatically 2 hr postinjection. The same dose of ISO injected 4 hr into light produced only a small detectable increase. Novel extension of nocturnal darkness did not affect the responses to ISO. Thus, when they are allowed to occur at the usual time on a 10-hr dark schedule, both the fall from the nocturnal aMT surge and the subsequent loss of pineal beta-adrenergic responsiveness in this species occur endogenously (probably entrained) rather than from gating by acute effects of morning light. Changes in daytime serum aMT consistent with concomitant changes in the pineal can be measured with a sufficiently sensitive radioimmunoassay.