N-acetyltransferase (NAT), which converts serotonin to N-acetylserotonin, is widely distributed in the vertebrate body1,2. In the pineal gland, however, NAT activity shows circadian changes which respond to environmental lighting both in vivo and in vitro3,4. NAT is responsible for rhythmic production of the pineal hormone melatonin, which functions in body colour changes6, photoperiodic control of reproduction7,8, and behavioural circadian rhythms9,10. The rhythmic changes in NAT have so far been thought unique to the pineal gland. Here we report data for ocular NAT showing a change in a daily light–dark cycle and modification by environmental lighting. The finding of light modified NAT in the eye is significant because it may explain the failure of some investigators11 to find effects of pinealectomy and it may also explain the occurrence of rhythmic melatonin in the blood of some species after pinealectomy12–14. The prerequisites for the production of melatonin exist in the eye as well as in the pineal gland: serotonin15, hydroxyindole-O-methyltransferase activity16 and N-acetylindole17 are present. Furthermore, labelled serotonin is converted to melatonin by the retina in vitro18. Our finding of NAT and its modification by light and dark completes the argument for ocular capacity for melatonin production in a cyclic manner modified by environmental lighting.
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Binkley, S., Hryshchyshyn, M. & Reilly, K. N-acetyltransferase activity responds to environmental lighting in the eye as well as in the pineal gland. Nature 281, 479–481 (1979). https://doi.org/10.1038/281479a0
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