The pineal gland is an endocrine organ in the brain that is primarily regulated by noradrenaline released by the sympathetic nervous system. It is the part of our circadian clock system that broadcasts the night hormone, melatonin, to all of the body. The night state of pinealocytes is accompanied by extensive changes in gene expression relative to the day state. Many expressed genes are those expressed by a sister lineage, photoreceptors, except that mammalian pinealocytes are not photosensitive. Our overall hypothesis is that pinealocytes switch between two very different electrophysiological excitability states that contribute to regulated secretion of melatonin and to entrainment and maintenance of circadian rhythms. Using biophysical techniques, the night and day states of cultured rat pinealocytes will be contrasted in terms of their ion channel complement, calcium signal dynamics, receptor activation, second messenger levels, and secretory mechanisms. The state changes will be achieved by preincubating cultured primary cells in appropriate neurotransmitters. Cells will be dissociated from rat pineal glands, placed in cell culture, treate with norepinephrine to mimic night, and studied under the microscope with techniques such as whole-cell gigaseal recording, photometry of calcium-sensitive dyes, amperometry and HPLC of neurotransmitters, and use of various live-cell indicators for second messengers. Night pinealocytes are hypothesized to have electrical excitability related to that of photoreceptors, and day pinealocytes are hypothesized to be relatively quiescent. The hypothesis that serotonin is secreted from pinealocytes by quantal exocytosis whereas melatonin and N-acetyl serotonin are secreted by hydrophobic diffusion will also be tested. Understanding the rhythmic secretory mechanisms of the pineal will make an important contribution towards treating sleep disorders, seasonal affective responses to short days, and loss of attention due to jet lag and shift work.
Cells of the pineal gland in the brain secrete melatonin, the hormone of night. We will study how their excitability differs in the secreting night state from th quiescent day state. Under- standing the rhythmic secretory mechanisms of the pineal will make an important contribution towards treating sleep disorders, seasonal affective responses to short days, and loss of attention due to jet lag and shift work.
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