- Analyses of diurnal rhythms in human post-mortem tissues (2007)
- Rhythmic changes in environmental lighting conditions have ever been the most reliable environmental cue for life on earth. Nature has therefore selected a genetically encrypted endogenous clock very early in evolution, as it provided cells and subsequently organisms with the ability to anticipate persevering periods of light and darkness. Rhythm generation within the mammalian circadian system is achieved by clock genes and their protein products. The mammalian endogenous master clock, which synchronizes the body to environmental time, is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. As an integral part of the time-coding system, the pineal gland serves the need to tune the body to the temporal environment by the rhythmic nocturnal synthesis and immediate release of the hormone melatonin. In contrast to the transcriptional regulation of melatonin synthesis in rodents, a post-translational shaping is indicated in the human pineal gland. Another important mediator of circadian time and seasonality to the body is the pituitary gland. The aim of this work was to elucidate regulation of melatonin synthesis in the human pineal gland. Furthermore, presence and regulation of clock genes in the human pineal and pituitary gland, and in the SCN were analyzed. Therefore, human tissue, taken from regular autopsies, was analyzed simultaneously for different parameters involved in melatonin biosynthesis and circadian rhythm generation. Presented data demonstrate that post-mortem brain tissue can be used to detect the remnant profile of pre-mortem adaptive changes in neuronal activity. In particular, our results give strong experimental support for the idea that transcriptional mechanisms are not dominant for the generation of rhythmic melatonin synthesis in the human pineal gland. Together with data obtained for clock genes and their protein products in the pituitary, data presented here offer 1) a new working hypothesis for post-translational regulation of melatonin biosynthesis in the human pineal gland, and 2) a novel twist in the molecular competence of clock gene proteins, achieved by nucleo-cytoplasmic shuttling in neuronal and neuroendocrine human tissue. Furthermore, in this study, oscillations in abundance of clock gene proteins were demonstrated for the first time in the human SCN.
- Melatonin synthesis in the human pineal gland (2007)
- Poster presentation: The mammalian pineal organ is a peripheral oscillator, depending on afferent information from the so-called master clock in the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus. One of the best studied outputs of the pineal gland is the small and hydrophobic molecule melatonin. In all vertebrates, melatonin is synthesized rhythmically with high levels at night, signalling the body the duration of the dark period. Changes or disruptions of melatonin rhythms in humans are related to a number of pathophysiological disorders, like Alzheimer's disease, seasonal affective disorder or the Smith-Magenis-Syndrome. To use melatonin in preventive or curative interferences with the human circadian system, a complete understanding of the generation of the rhythmic melatonin signal in the human pineal gland is essential. Melatonin biosynthesis is best studied in the rodent pineal gland, where the activity of the penultimate and rate-limiting enzyme, the arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AA-NAT), is regulated on the transcriptional level, whereas the regulatory role of the ultimate enzymatic step, achieved by the hydroxyindole O-methyltransferase (HIOMT), is still under debate. In rodents, Aa-nat mRNA is about 100-fold elevated during the night in response to adrenergic stimulation of the cAMP-signalling pathway, with AA-NAT protein levels closely following this dynamics. In contrast, in all ungulates studied so far (cow, sheep), a post-transcriptional regulation of the AA-NAT is central to determine rhythmic melatonin synthesis. AA-NAT mRNA levels are constantly elevated, and lead to a constitutive up-regulation of AA-NAT protein, which is, however, rapidly degraded via proteasomal proteolysis during the day. AA-NAT proteolysis is only terminated upon the nocturnal increase in cAMP levels. Similar to ungulates, a post-transcriptional control of this enzyme seems evident in the pineal gland of the primate Macaca mulatta. Studies on the molecular basis of melatonin synthesis in the human being are sparse and almost exclusively based on phenomenological data, derived from non-invasive investigations. Yet the molecular mechanisms underlying the generation of the hormonal message of darkness can currently only be deciphered using autoptic material. We therefore analyzed in human post-mortem pineal tissue Aa-nat and Hiomt mRNA levels, AA-NAT and HIOMT enzyme activity, and melatonin levels for the first time simultaneously within tissue samples of the same specimen. Here presented data show the feasibility of this approach. Our results depict a clear diurnal rhythm in AA-NAT activity and melatonin content, despite constant values for Aa-nat and Hiomt mRNA, and for HIOMT activity. Notably, the here elevated AA-NAT activity during the dusk period does not correspond to a simultaneous elevation in melatonin content. It is currently unclear whether this finding may suggest a more important role of the ultimate enzyme in melatonin synthesis, the HIOMT, for rate-limiting the melatonin rhythm, as reported recently for the rodent pineal gland. Thus, our data support for the first time experimentally that post-transcriptional mechanisms are responsible for the generation of rhythmic melatonin synthesis in the human pineal gland.