• circadian oscillators;
  • melatonin;
  • pike pineal;
  • photoreceptor cells


In the pike pineal, the rhythm of melatonin (MEL) secretion is driven by a population of cellular circadian oscillators, synchronized by the 24 h light/dark (LD) cycle. Because the pineal photoreceptor contains both the input and output pathways of the clock, this cell is likely to be a cellular circadian system by itself. To support this idea, we have dissociated and cultured pike pineal cells as well as purified photoreceptors. In culture, the pineal cells reassociated in follicles, surrounded by collagen fibres. At the electron microscopic level, they appeared well preserved. Total cells consisted mainly of photoreceptors and glia. Purified cells corresponded exclusively to photoreceptors. Under LD, MEL production was rhythmic. Under constant darkness (DD), the rhythm was well sustained for at least six 24 h cycles (τ= 24/27 h) with 1 × 106 total cells/well or below; with 2 × 106 total cells/well, a strong damping occurred towards high levels as soon as after the second cycle. At the density of 0.5 × 106 cells/well, purified photoreceptors produced less MEL than an equivalent amount of total cells. However, the pattern of the oscillations was similar to that observed with 2 × 106 total cells, i.e. a damping occurred rapidly. Decreasing the density to 0.125 × 106 photoreceptors/well resulted in a loss of homogeneity among replicates. The production of melatonin by single photoreceptors was monitored by means of the reverse haemolytic plaque assay. Both under LD and under DD, the number of photoreceptors releasing melatonin was higher during the (subjective) dark than during the (subjective) light. The results provide strong support to the idea that the pike pineal photoreceptor is a cellular circadian system. Expression of the oscillations seemed to depend on several factors, including cell to cell contacts between photoreceptors. There is indication that also MEL and glia might be involved.