• development;
  • HIOMT;
  • melatonin;
  • melatonin receptors;
  • NAT;
  • pineal gland;
  • thymus

Abstract:  To gain insight into the relationship between thymus and pineal gland during rat development, the melatonin content as well as the activity and expression of the two key enzymes for melatonin biosynthesis, i.e. N-acetyltransferase (NAT) and hydroxyindole-O-methyltransferase (HIOMT), were studied in the thymus at fetal and postnatal stages. Moreover, melatonin-membrane receptor (MT1) expression was also analyzed. We found both the expression and activity of thymic NAT and HIOMT at 18 days of fetal life. Additionally, there is production of melatonin in the thymus as well as MT1 expression at this fetal age. These results show values higher in day-time than at night-time. The pineal gland begins to produce significant levels of melatonin around postnatal day 16, and this synthesis shows a circadian rhythm with high values during the dark period; therefore the nocturnal serum melatonin may inhibit thymic melatonin production. To document this, we report an increased melatonin content of the thymus in pinealectomized rats compared with sham-pinealectomized. In conclusion, these results show, for the first time, the presence of the biosynthetic machinery of melatonin and melatonin production in developing rat thymus and that the pineal gland may regulate this process.