Skip to main content
Publications of the Week

Two Indoleamines Are Secreted from Rat Pineal Gland at Night and Act on Melatonin Receptors but Are Not Night Hormones

By November 25, 2019No Comments

Read the Publication

This week we profile a recent publication in the Journal of Pineal Research
from the laboratory of Dr. Bertil Hille (pictured) at UW Medicine.

Can you provide a brief overview of your lab’s current research focus?

For more than 50 years the Hille lab in Seattle has studied signaling in the nervous system. How do nerve cells make electrical signals? How do they release and respond to hormones and neurotransmitters?

What is the significance of the findings in this publication?

In this study, we focused on the pineal gland, one of the key output organs of your biological clock. The philosopher Descartes thought that this gland in your brain, about the size of a pea, was the seat of the soul. Now we understand instead that the pineal is activated during the dark phase of the 24-hour day to make and secrete the hormone of night, melatonin. We identified other melatonin-related hormones that the gland was making and their day/night rhythm – the circadian rhythm, as it is called. Then we went on to test whether these molecules could act on the body’s receptors for night hormones.

Melatonin biology is interesting for medicine and society since disregulation of melatonin secretion can disturb night-shift workers or people exposed to bright lights in the middle of the night and also can underlie seasonal depression in people living in gloomy places. Some people purchase melatonin at health food stores to aid in sleep and us bright lighting in the day to ward off depression.

This interdisciplinary work was an enjoyable collaboration between two postdoctoral fellows and four faculty members in three laboratories in Pharmacology, Biology, and Physiology & Biophysics. It illustrates well how modern biomedical research benefits from crossing disciplinary boundaries.

What are the next steps for this research?

We want to test the hypothesis that pineal gland cells are also secreting neurotransmitters that act locally to coordinate the night-time activation. Do they perform little computations as in a nerve circuit?

This work was funded by:

We are very grateful for continuous and generous funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for half a century.

Photo Credit: University of Washington

Read the Publication