The Ontogeny of Central Melatonin Binding Sites in the Rat


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The maternal transfer of circadian rhythmicity and photoperiodic information to the fetus has been clearly demonstrated in several species, as has the importance of the pineal hormone, melatonin, in conveying this information. Maternal melatonin is known to readily cross the placenta and be taken up by the fetal brain. Specific melatonin receptors have been demonstrated in the rodent brain and pituitary from the 21st day of gestation. To better understand the mechanisms by which melatonin brings about the transfer of information to the fetus and to define the receptivity of the fetus to the melatonin signal, we have followed the ontogeny of central melatonin binding sites in the rat from the 13th day of gestation to 5 days after birth. The use of in vitro autoradiography allows for the precise localization of binding sites as well as their quantification. In the present study melatonin binding sites were first found on the 15th day of gestation, at which time specific binding was limited to the pituitary. At birth it was possible to identify a strong label in the pars tuberalis of the pituitary, whereas the pars distalis appeared to be less intensely and more unevenly labeled. Neuronal melatonin binding sites became apparent from day 17 of gestation in an area of the dorsal brain that in older fetuses and in neonatal rats appeared to be the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus. Moreover, melatonin binding sites are identifiable over the suprachiasmatic nuclei from day 18 of gestation. These data show that the fetal pituitary may have the potential to respond to the maternal melatonin signal as early as the 15th day of gestation, and that the brain may attain that potential at the 17th or 18th day of gestation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2083-2090
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1991


  • hypophyseal pars tuberalis
  • suprachiasmatic nucleus
  • reproductive development
  • Djungarian hamster
  • Phodopus-Sungorus
  • fetal-rat
  • pituitary
  • photoperiod
  • cells
  • receptors


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