The indolic hormone melatonin is produced by the pineal gland according to a daily rhythm. The terminal step of melatonin synthesis is catalysed by hydroxyindole O-methyltransferase (HIOMT, EC 2.1.1.4). Adaptation to constant light or darkness modifies HIOMT activity and concentration. Using a cDNA probe encoding HIOMT, we investigated the effect of environmental lighting on HIOMT gene expression in the chicken pineal gland. HIOMT mRNA levels increased by 100% in constant light as compared with constant darkness. In addition, the present study disclosed the existence of a day/night rhythm of HIOMT gene transcription, with 3-fold higher mRNA levels at midday than at midnight. This transcriptional rhythm was not accompanied by day/night changes in HIOMT concentration, probably due to a slow turnover of this protein. Unexpected darkness did not prevent the daytime rise in HIOMT mRNA levels, whereas unexpected light prevented the night-time fall in HIOMT mRNA levels. Together, the data would suggest that the day/night rhythm of HIOMT gene transcription in the chicken pineal gland involves both a response to light and the activity of a biological oscillator.

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