The production of the pineal hormone melatonin displays circadian variations with high levels at night. The last enzyme involved in melatonin biosynthesis is hydroxyindole-O-methyltransferase (HIOMT, EC 2.1.1.4). The expression of the mRNA encoding chicken HIOMT was investigated in vivo and in vitro throughout the light/dark cycle, in constant darkness and with light interruption of the dark phase. The stability of HIOMT mRNA was also examined. A day/night rhythm of HIOMT mRNA levels, with a peak at the midlight phase, was observed in vivo as well as in vitro. Constant darkness did not abolish this rhythm in vivo. One cycle of the HIOMT mRNA rhythm could be observed in constant darkness in vitro. In addition, a stimulatory effect of light on HIOMT mRNA levels during the dark phase could be observed in vivo as well as in vitro. HIOMT mRNA stability was not affected by light or dark conditions, as demonstrated by chase experiments with actinomycin D. The results indicate that the daily changes in HIOMT mRNA concentration reflect transcriptional regulation by circadian oscillators and photosensory mechanisms that are endogenous to the pineal gland.

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