Melatonin synthesis in the retina as well as in the pineal gland exhibits daily variations with higher levels during the dark phase of light-dark cycles. To analyze the molecular mechanism of melatonin synthesis in the retina, we have cloned, sequenced and characterized a putative cDNA for arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT; EC 22.214.171.124), a rate-limiting enzyme in melatonin production, from the retina of the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). The trout AANAT cDNA (1,585 bp) contains an open reading frame encoding 240 amino acid protein (predicted molecular weight, 27,420) that is 51-65% identical to avian and mammalian AANAT. The trout retinal AANAT protein contains motifs A and B that are conserved among the N-acetyltransferase superfamily and eight potential phosphorylation sites. Southern blot analysis demonstrated that the protein is expressed by a single copy gene. A single AANAT transcript (1.6 kb) was detected in the retina but not in the liver by Northern blot analysis. The levels of AANAT mRNA in the retina exhibited day-night changes with 3.3-fold increase at night. These results indicate that in the rainbow trout retina, the activity of AANAT and thus melatonin synthesis are regulated at least in part at the transcriptional level.
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