N-acetyltransferase is not the rate-limiting enzyme of melatonin synthesis at night


Address reprint requests to Jimo Borjigin, Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, University of Michigan Medical School, 7629 MS II, 1301 East Catherine Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0622, USA.
E-mail: borjigin@umich.edu


Abstract:  Circadian melatonin production in the pineal gland and retina is under the control of serotonin N-acetyltransferase (NAT) and hydroxyindole-O-methyltransferase. Because NAT activity varies diurnally, it has been considered both the melatonin rhythm-generating enzyme and the rate-limiting enzyme of melatonin synthesis. In rats with dramatically reduced NAT activity due to a H28Y mutation in NAT, melatonin levels remained the same as in wildtype controls, suggesting that NAT does not determine the rate of melatonin production at night. Using a combination of molecular approaches with a sensitive in vivo measurement of pineal diurnal melatonin production, we demonstrate that (i) N-acetylserotonin (NAS), the enzymatic product of NAT, is present in vast excess in the night pineals compared with melatonin; (ii) the continuous increase in NAT protein levels at late night does not produce a proportional increase in melatonin; and (iii) an increase in NAS in the same animal over several circadian cycles do not result in corresponding increase in melatonin output. These results strongly suggest that NAT is not the rate-limiting enzyme of melatonin formation at night.