In non-mammalian vertebrates, the pineal gland contains an endogenous circadian oscillator and serves as a photosensitive neuroendocrinal organ. To better understand the pineal phototransduction mechanism, we focused on the chicken putative blue-light photoreceptive molecule, Cryptochrome4 (cCRY4). Here we report the molecular cloning of pineal cCry4 cDNA, the in vivo expression of cCry4 mRNA, and the detection of cCRY4 protein. cCry4 is transcribed in a wide variety of chick tissues out of which the pineal gland and retina contain high levels of cCry4 mRNA. In the pineal gland, under 12 h light : 12 h dark cycles, the levels of both cCry4 mRNA and cCRY4 protein showed diurnal changes, and in cultured chick pineal cells, the cCry4 mRNA level was not only up-regulated by light but also controlled by circadian signals. Immunoblot analysis with a cCRY4-specific antibody detected cCRY4 in a soluble fraction of the pineal lysate. Immunocytochemistry revealed that cCRY4 was expressed in many parenchymal cells and a limited number of stromal cells. These cCRY4 features strikingly contrast with those of the chick pineal photoreceptor pinopsin, suggesting a possible temporal and/or spatial duplicity of the pineal photoreceptive system, the opsin- and CRY-based mechanisms.
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