Melatonin synthesis in the pineal gland, which is primarily regulated by the environmental lighting regime, can also be influenced by other factors that elicit modifications in sympathetic tone. The objectives of this study were to determine if forced swimming alters the normal pattern of melatonin production in the pineal gland of the Richardson's ground squirrel (Spermophilus richardsonii). In early June, the squirrels were forced to swim for 10 min during the photophase or during the scotophase. In mid‐July squirrels swam only during the scotophase. Animals were sacrificed 15, 30, or 60 min after the onset of swimming. Activities of pineal N‐acetyltransferase (NAT) and hydroxyindole‐O‐methyltransferase (HIOMT) were assessed by radioenzyme assay, and pineal melatonin content was measured by radioimmunoassay. Daytime swimming elicited no major changes in enzyme activity or pineal melatonin. In June, swimming at night prevented the normal rises in NAT activity and pineal melatonin seen in nonswimming controls. In contrast, the pineals of squirrels that were tested 6 weeks later in mid‐July did not appear to be as sensitive to nighttime swimming, as there were only minor differences in both NAT activity and melatonin content compared to controls. These results demonstrate that forced nighttime swimming, unlike several other aversive stimuli, can evoke changes in the normal pattern of pineal melatonin production in this species. Furthermore, the pineal's response to such stimuli may not be stable over the course of the active season.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology