Relationship between nocturnal serotonin surge and melatonin onset in rodent pineal gland

Tiecheng Liu, Jimo Borjigin


Background: We have recently reported dynamic circadian rhythms of serotonin (5-HT, 5- hydroxytryptamine) output in the pineal gland of rat, which precedes the onset of Nacetylserotonin (NAS) and melatonin secretion at night. The present study was aimed at investigating in detail the relationship between 5-HT onset (5HT-on) and melatonin onset (MT-on) in multiple strains of rats and comparing them with those of hamsters.

Methods: Animals were maintained in chambers equipped with light (250 lux at cage levels) and ventilation in a temperature-controlled room. Following surgical implantation of a microdialysis probe in the pineal gland, animals were individually housed for on-line pineal microdialysis and for automated HPLC analysis of 5-HT and melatonin. Animals were under a light-dark cycle of 12:12 h for the duration of the experiments.

Results: All animals displayed dynamic 5-HT and melatonin rhythms at night. In all cases, 5HT-on (taken at 80% of the daily maximum levels) preceded MT-on (taken at 20% of the daily maximum levels). Within the same animals, 5HT-on as well as MT-on across multiple circadian cycles exhibited minimum variations under entrained conditions. Large inter-individual variations of both 5HT-on and MT-on were found in outbred rats and hamsters under entrained conditions. In comparison, inbred rats displayed very small individual variations of 5HT-on and MT-on. Importantly, we have uncovered a species-specific relationship of 5HT-on and MT-on. 5HT-on of rats, regardless of the strain, preceded MT-on of the same rats by 50 min. In contrast, 5HT-on of hamsters led MT-on by as much as 240 min. Thus, while a constant relationship of 5HT-on and MTon exists for animals of the same species, the relative timings of 5HT-on and MT-on differ between animals of different species.

Conclusion: These results suggest that both 5-HT and melatonin could serve as reliable markers of the circadian clock because of their day-to-day precision of onset timings within the same animals or within individuals of the same strain or same species. The results also demonstrate that data for MT-on cannot be compared directly between different species, and that 5HT-on may be a more reliable circadian marker when data from animals of different species are compared.

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How to cite: Liu, T and Borjigin, J 2006. Relationship between nocturnal serotonin surge and melatonin onset in rodent pineal gland. Journal of Circadian Rhythms 4:12, DOI:

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Published on 27 September 2006.

ISSN: 1740-3391 | Published by Ubiquity Press | Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.