Melanopsin expression in dopamine-melatonin neurons of the premammillary nucleus of the hypothalamus and seasonal reproduction in birds

S. W. Kang, B. Leclerc, S. Kosonsiriluk, L. J. Mauro, A. Iwasawa, M. E. El Halawani

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63 Scopus citations


Melanopsin (OPN4) is a photoreceptive molecule regulating circadian systems in mammals. Previous studies from our laboratory have shown that co-localized dopamine-melatonin (DA-MEL) neurons in the hypothalamic premammillary nucleus (PMM) are putatively photosensitive and exhibit circadian rhythms in DAergic and MELergic activities. This study investigates turkey OPN4x (t. OPN4x) mRNA distribution in the hypothalamus and brainstem, and characterizes its expression in PMM DA-MEL neurons, using in situ hybridization (ISH), immunocytochemistry (ICC), double-label ISH/ICC, and real time-PCR. The mRNA encoding t. OPN4x was found in anatomically discrete areas in or near the hypothalamus and the brainstem, including nucleus preopticus medialis (POM), nucleus septalis lateralis (SL), PMM and the pineal gland. Double ICC, using tyrosine hydroxylase (TH, the rate limiting enzyme in DA synthesis)-and OPN4x antibodies, confirmed the existence of OPN4x protein in DA-MEL neurons. Also, t. OPN4x mRNA expression was verified with double ISH/ICC using t. OPN4x mRNA and TH immunoreactivity. PMM and pineal gland t. OPN4x mRNA expression levels were diurnally high during the night and low during the day. A light pulse provided to short day photosensitive hens during the photosensitive phase at night significantly down-regulated tOPN4x expression. The expression level of t. OPN4x mRNA in PMM DA-MEL neurons of photorefractory hens was significantly lower as compared with that of short or long day photosensitive hens. The results implicate tOPN4x in hypothalamic PMM DA-MEL neurons as an important component of the photoreceptive system regulating reproductive activity in temperate zone birds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-213
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project is supported by National Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2007-35203-18072 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture .


  • Avian reproduction
  • Dopamine
  • In situ hybridization
  • Melanopsin
  • Real time-PCR
  • Turkey


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