Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

N-acetyltransferase activity responds to environmental lighting in the eye as well as in the pineal gland


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout


  1. Ellison, N., Weller, J. & Klein, D. J. Neurochem. 19, 1335–1341 (1972).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Binkley, S. The Pineal Gland: Its Anatomy and Biochemistry (CRC Press, West Palm Beach, in the press).

  3. Binkley, S. Fedn Proc. 35, 2347–2352 (1976).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Binkley, S., Riebman, J. & Reilly, K. Science 202, 1198–1201 (1978).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Binkley, S., MacBride, S., Klein, D. & Ralph, C. Science 181, 273–275 (1973).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Bagnara, J. & Hadley, M. Chromatophores and Color Change, 98 (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 1973).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Reiter, R. The Pineal (Eden Press, Montreal, 1979).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Turek, F., Desjardins, C. & Menaker, M. Science 190, 280–282 (1975).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Gaston, S. & Menaker, M. Science 160, 1125–1127 (1968).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Zimmerman, N. & Menaker, M. Proc. natn Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 76, 999–1003 (1979).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Quay, W. Physiol. Behav. 3, 109–118 (1968).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Ozaki, Y. & Lynch, H. Endocrinology 99, 641–644 (1976).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Owens, D., Gern, W. & Ralph, C. Am. Zool. 18, 625 (1978).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Gern, W., Owens, D. & Ralph, C. J. exp. Zool. 205, 371–376 (1978).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Hauschild, D. & Laties, A. Invest. Ophthalm. 12, 537–540 (1974).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Quay, W. Life Sci. 4, 983–991 (1965).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Bubenik, G., Brown, G., Uhlir, I. & Grota, L. Brain Res. 81, 233–242 (1974).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Gern, W. & Ralph, C. Science 204, 183–184 (1979).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Klein, D. & Weller, J. Science 177, 532–533 (1972).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Binkley, S., MacBride, S., Klein, D. & Ralph, C. Endocrinology 96, 848–853 (1975).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. La Vail, M. Science 194, 1071–1074 (1976).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Burnside, B. J. Cell Biol. 78, 227–246 (1978).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Cheze, G. & Ali, M. Can. J. Zool. 54, 475–481 (1976).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Levinson, G. & Burnside, B. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science (in preparation).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing