Refractoriness to melatonin occurs independently at multiple brain sites in Siberian hamsters


The mid-winter development of refractoriness to melatonin (Mel) triggers recrudescence of the atrophied reproductive apparatus of rodents. As a consequence, over-wintering animals become reproductively competent just before the onset of spring conditions favorable for breeding. The neural target tissues that cease to respond to winter Mel signals have not been identified. We now report that the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, which contains the principal circadian clock, and the reuniens and paraventricular nuclei of the thalamus, each independently becomes refractory to melatonin. Small implants of Mel that were left in place for 40 wk and that act locally on these brain nuclei, induced testicular regression within 6 wk in male Siberian hamsters; 12 wk later Mel implants no longer suppressed reproduction and gonadal recrudescence ensued. Hamsters that were then given a systemic Mel infusion s.c. immediately initiated a second gonadal regression, implying that neurons at each site become refractory to Mel without compromising responsiveness of other Mel target tissues. Refractoriness occurs locally and independently at each neural target tissue, rather than in a separate "refractoriness" substrate. Restricted, target-specific actions of Mel are consistent with the independent regulation by day length of the several behavioral and physiological traits that vary seasonally in mammals.

Publication Title

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America