Genetic control of melatonin synthesis in the pineal gland of the mouse

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Science  31 Jan 1986:
Vol. 231, Issue 4737, pp. 491-493
DOI: 10.1126/science.3941912


Pineal melatonin may play an important role in regulation of vertebrate circadian rhythms and in human affective disorders. In some mammals, such as hamsters and sheep, melatonin is involved in photoperiodic time measurement and in control of reproduction. Although wild mice (Mus domesticus) and some wild-derived inbred strains of mice have melatonin in their pineal glands, several inbred strains of laboratory mice (for example, C57BL/6J) were found not to have detectable melatonin in their pineal glands. Genetic analysis suggests that melatonin deficiency in C57BL/6J mice results from mutations in two independently segregating, autosomal recessive genes. Synthesis of melatonin from serotonin in the pineal gland requires the enzymes N-acetyltransferase (NAT) and hydroxyindole-O-methyltransferase (HIOMT). Pineal glands from C57BL/6J mice have neither NAT nor HIOMT activity. These results suggest that the two genes involved in melatonin deficiency are responsible for the absence of normal NAT and HIOMT enzyme activity.