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Temporal and histological evaluation of melatonin patterns in a ‘basal’ metazoan


Address reprint requests to Modi Roopin, The Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan 52900, Israel.


Abstract:  While recent advances suggest functional pleiotropy of melatonin in higher organisms, an understanding of the biological significance of this ancient molecule in early evolutionary groups is lacking. Here, endogenous melatonin production was identified for the first time in the sea anemone Actinia equina, a nonsymbiotic hexacorallian cnidarian. Day/night activity profiles of melatonin in this anemone indicated that melatonin levels oscillate with significant nocturnal peaks. However, dynamic changes in melatonin concentration did not persist under constant dark conditions and therefore were not circadian in nature. Thus, the oscillating pattern of melatonin in A. equina is presumed to be the result of alternative, simpler melatonin control mechanism that likely involves direct regulation by the daily photocycle. As nocturnal melatonin signals still potentially provide ‘time-of-day’ information and can illustrate the seasonally changing length of the biological night, we hypothesize that melatonin may be relevant to temporal coordination of timed processes also in anthozoans. Spatial patterns of melatonin distribution found in this study indicate abundant melatonin distribution in the endodermal filaments wrapped around gametes. This finding supports the possibility that one of the melatonin-responsive processes in this basal metazoan species may involve reproductive functions.