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Open Access Research

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

Tiecheng Liu and Jimo Borjigin*

Author Affiliations

Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA

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Journal of Circadian Rhythms 2006, 4:12  doi:10.1186/1740-3391-4-12

Published: 27 September 2006



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 N-acetylserotonin (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.


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.


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 MT-on exists for animals of the same species, the relative timings of 5HT-on and MT-on differ between animals of different species.


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.