Hypocretin (orexin) in the rat pineal gland: a central transmitter with effects on noradrenaline-induced release of melatonin


: Dr Valérie Simonneaux, as above.
E-mail: simonneaux@neurochem.u-strasbg.fr


Hypocretin-1 (HCRT-1) and hypocretin 2 (HCRT-2), also known as orexin-A and orexin-B, are two neuropeptides derived from the same precursor. Hypocretinergic neurons have been found exclusively in the hypothalamic dorsolateral area. These neurons are implicated in sleep and feeding through activation of specific G-protein-coupled orexin-1 and orexin-2 receptor (OR-R1 and OR-R2). The purpose of this study was to determine the existence of the HCRT peptides in the central input of the rat pineal gland. Further, OR-R1 and OR-R2 expression was determined in the pineal gland and the effect of HCRT-2 on melatonin synthesis and secretion was analysed in dissociated rat pinealocytes. A large contingent of HCRT-positive nerve fibres and terminals were observed in the epithalamus, many of which entered into the pineal parenchyma. A significant number of nerve fibres endowed with positive boutons were identified in the pineal stalk, though the number of positive fibres decreased along the extension of the stalk. So far, no positive fibres have been found in the superficial pineal gland. RT-PCR analysis revealed the expression of OR-R2 mRNA, whereas OR-R1-receptor mRNA was not detected. When tested alone, HCRT-2 had no effect on secretion of melatonin from cultured rat pinealocytes. However, HCRT-2 partially inhibited (by a maximum of 30%) the β-adrenergic-induced melatonin secretion. The same effect was seen on activation of N-acetyltransferase activity. The distribution and the large number of HCRT-positive fibres together with the effect on noradrenaline-mediated melatonin release through specific receptors suggests that these peptides may be significant central transmitters in pineal function, probably mediating homeostatic signals to the pineal gland.