The pars tuberalis (PT) of the pituitary is a major neuroendocrine target site for melatonin as it contains a large number of high-affinity melatonin receptors. We have previously shown that melatonin autoregulates the density of its own receptors in the PT. However, whether melatonin regulation includes mRNA expression in vivo is unclear. In the present study we have used quantitative in situ hybridization to (1) follow the daily profile of mt1 mRNA expression in the rat PT and (2) investigate whether mt1 mRNA expression could be regulated in vivo by melatonin. We found clear diurnal variations of mt1 mRNA expression that persist in constant darkness. We also showed, on pinealectomized animals, that the rhythmic pineal melatonin secretion is necessary for the expression of these daily variations. In a second step, we studied the effect of an acute suppression of endogenous melatonin synthesis on mt1 melatonin receptors by applying a 1-hour light pulse during the night. We found that light induced a dramatic increase in mt1 mRNA which was totally prevented by a melatonin injection showing that the acute effect of melatonin on the receptor mRNA is strongly inhibitory. A light pulse applied to animals with a chronic absence of melatonin was ineffective showing that light only affects melatonin receptors via the light-induced plasma melatonin suppression. Altogether our results show that melatonin regulates mt1 melatonin receptor mRNA expression. However, this regulation seems to be complex: acute changes in plasma melatonin concentration regulate negatively the gene transcription, even if the daily endogenous nocturnal melatonin peak seems a prerequisite for variations in its receptor expression.

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