An endogenous circannual rhythm drives the seasonal reproductive cycle of a broad spectrum of species. This rhythm is synchronized to the seasons (i.e., entrained) by photoperiod, which acts by regulating the circadian pattern of melatonin secretion from the pineal gland. Prior work has revealed that melatonin patterns secreted in spring/summer entrain the circannual rhythm of reproductive neuroendocrine activity in sheep, whereas secretions in winter do not. The goal of this study was to determine if inability of the winter-melatonin pattern to entrain the rhythm is due to the specific melatonin pattern secreted in winter or to the stage of the circannual rhythm at that time of year. Either a summer- or a winter-melatonin pattern was infused for 70 days into pinealectomized ewes, centered around the summer solstice, when an effective stimulus readily entrains the rhythm. The ewes were ovariectomized and treated with constant-release estradiol implants, and circannual cycles of reproductive neuroendocrine activity were monitored by serum LH concentrations. Only the summer-melatonin pattern entrained the circannual reproductive rhythm. The inability of the winter pattern to do so indicates that the mere presence of a circadian melatonin pattern, in itself, is insufficient for entrainment. Rather, the characteristics of the melatonin pattern, in particular a pattern that mimics the photoperiodic signals of summer, determines entrainment of the circannual rhythm of reproductive neuroendocrine activity in the ewe.
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