The pineal hormone melatonin elicits two effects on the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN): acute neuronal inhibition and phase-shifting. Melatonin evokes its biological effects through G protein-coupled receptors. Since the Mel1a melatonin receptor may transduce the major neurobiological actions of melatonin in mammals, we examined whether it mediates both melatonin effects on SCN function by using mice with targeted disruption of the Mel1a receptor. The Mel1a receptor accounts for all detectable, high affinity melatonin binding in mouse brain. Functionally, this receptor is necessary for the acute inhibitory action of melatonin on the SCN. Melatonin-induced phase shifts, however, are only modestly altered in the receptor-deficient mice; pertussis toxin still blocks melatonin-induced phase shifts in Mel1a receptor-deficient mice. The other melatonin receptor subtype, the Mel1b receptor, is expressed in mouse SCN, implicating it in the phase-shifting response. The results provide a molecular basis for two distinct, mechanistically separable effects of melatonin on SCN physiology.
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