Dynamics in enzymatic protein complexes offer a novel principle for the regulation of melatonin synthesis in the human pineal gland

Erik Maronde, Anastasia Saade, Katrin Ackermann, Hany Goubran-Botros, Cecile Pagan, Roman Bux, Thomas Bourgeron, Faramarz Dehghani, Jörg H Stehle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Time of day is communicated to the body through rhythmic cues, including pineal gland melatonin synthesis, which is restricted to nighttime. Whereas in most rodents transcriptional regulation of the arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (Aanat) gene is essential for rhythmic melatonin synthesis, investigations into nonrodent mammalian species have shown post-transcriptional regulation to be of central importance, with molecular mechanisms still elusive. Therefore, human pineal tissues, taken from routine autopsies were allocated to four time-of-death groups (night/dawn/day/dusk) and analyzed for daytime-dependent changes in phosphorylated AANAT (p31T-AANAT) and in acetyl-serotonin-methyltransferase (ASMT) expression and activity. Protein content, intracellular localization, and colocalization of p31T-AANAT and ASMT were assessed, using immunoblotting, immunofluorescence, and immunoprecipitation techniques. Fresh sheep pineal gland preparations were used for comparative purposes. The amount of p31T-AANAT and ASMT proteins as well as their intracellular localization showed no diurnal variation in autoptic human and fresh sheep pineal glands. Moreover, in human and sheep pineal extracts, AANAT could not be dephosphorylated, which was at variance to data derived from rat pineal extracts. P31T-AANAT and ASMT were often found to colocalize in cellular rod-like structures that were also partly immunoreactive for the pinealocyte process-specific marker S-antigen (arrestin) in both, human and sheep pinealocytes. Protein-protein interaction studies with p31T-AANAT, ASMT, and S-antigen demonstrated a direct association and formation of robust complexes, involving also 14-3-3. This work provides evidence for a regulation principle for AANAT activity in the human pineal gland, which may not be based on a p31T-AANAT phosphorylation/dephosphorylation switch, as described for other mammalian species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)145-55
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of pineal research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011


  • Acetylserotonin O-Methyltransferase
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Arylalkylamine N-Acetyltransferase
  • Blotting, Western
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Melatonin
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Middle Aged
  • Pineal Gland
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Rats
  • Sheep
  • Journal Article


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