The Development of Melatonin-Binding Sites in the Ovine Fetus

R J A HELLIWELL, Lynda Williams

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32 Citations (Scopus)


The pineal hormone, melatonin, is important in the timing of seasonal reproduction in the sheep. Melatonin of maternal origin readily crosses the placenta; its function in the fetal sheep is, however, unclear. To gain an insight into the role of melatonin in ovine development we have identified specific melatonin receptors throughout gestation using 2-[I-125]iodomelatonin and quantitative in vitro autoradiography. Specific binding was found at the earliest time studied at 30 days of gestation, over the developing thyroid (term=145 days). At 31 days of gestation specific labelling was found over the thyroid and pituitary glands, the spinal nerves, nasal cavity and developing bronchi. This binding was diminished by over 50% in the presence of 10(-4) M GTP gamma S (an analogue of guanosine triphosphate) indicating that the 2-[I-125]iodomelatonin binding at this early stage of gestation represents a receptor coupled to a regulatory G-protein. By 40 days of gestation specific binding was found over the nasal epithelium, cochlear epithelium, regions of the brain, especially the hind brain and the vestibulocochlear and glossopharyngeal nerves, and both the pars distalis and pars tuberalis of the pituitary. As gestation proceeded, labelling over the pars distalis appeared to become more scattered in nature while that on the pars tuberalis remained consistent. Saturation studies of both the neuronal and pituitary binding sites at 121 days of gestation and in the newborn lamb revealed a single class of high-affinity binding sites with K-d values in the picomolar range. Also at 121 days of gestation, binding over the fetal pars tuberalis was diminished in a dose-dependent manner by GTP gamma S, again confirming that specific binding is indicative of a receptor coupled to a regulatory G-protein. These data demonstrate a potential for sensitivity to melatonin from early in gestation, as well as the developmentally specific expression of the melatonin receptor in certain tissues, and suggest a wider role for melatonin in ovine fetal development than previously considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)475-484
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Endocrinology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 1994


  • hamsters phodopus-sungorus
  • maternal pinealectomy
  • Siberian hamsters
  • pars tuberalis
  • late gestation
  • pregnant ewe
  • photoperiodic information
  • reproductive development
  • invitro autoradiography
  • prenatal photoperiod


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