Melatonin regulation of reproductive functions in sheep is mediated by action in the premammillary hypothalamus (PMH). The aim of this study was to identify the high-affinity melatonin-receptor subtypes expressed in this structure. To achieve this, we used reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and developed in situ hybridization techniques (ISH). By using RT-PCR, we detected a band corresponding to the MTNR1A melatonin-receptor cDNA in the PMH as well as in the pars tuberalis (PT). On the opposite, MTNR1B melatonin-receptor transcripts were not detected using degenerate primers in any of the structures considered, confirming the lack of expression of this receptor subtype in sheep. The expression of MTNR1A mRNA was further confirmed in the PMH by ISH with a 35S-labeled ovine MTNR1A riboprobe. We next investigated the variation in the expression of MTNR1A mRNA between the end of the day and the end of the night (absence and presence of melatonin, respectively). MTNR1A transcript expression was greater at the end of the night than at the end of the day in the PMH. In contrast, MTNR1A mRNA expression was lower at the end of the night than at the end of the day in the PT. No significant variation in the MTNR1A mRNA expression was observed in a more dorsal hypothalamic area. Overall, these results show that MTNR1A transcripts are expressed in the ovine PMH and that their expression follows a diurnal rhythm, which is different from the pattern of expression observed in the PT.
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