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Synchronization by low-amplitude light-dark cycles of 24-hour pineal and plasma melatonin rhythms of hatchling European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris)
journal contributionposted on 1997-11-01, 00:00 authored by E Gwinner, M Zeman, Marcel KlaassenMarcel Klaassen
In young European starlings, as in other avian species, high-amplitude 24-hr rhythms in plasma and pineal melatonin are already present around the time of hatching. In chickens this rhythmicity results at least partly from the light sensitivity of the melatonin-producing and -secreting system. In contrast to the chicken, the starling is a hole-nesting bird, and it seemed questionable whether the low light intensities in the nest are sufficient to synchronize perinatal melatonin rhythms. We therefore exposed starling eggs to light cycles roughly simulating those measured in nest-boxes, i.e., an 11-hr phase of complete darkness and a 13-hr phase consisting of 15 min of dim light (10 lux) alternating with 30 min of darkness. For one group the photophase lasted from 0600 to 1900 hr; for the other group the photophase lasted from 1800 to 0700 hr. In approximately 10-hr-old hatchlings of both groups, plasma and pineal melatonin concentrations were high during the dark phase and low during the light phase. We conclude that perinatal low-amplitude light intensity changes of the kind experienced by hatching starlings in the field are sufficient for synchronizing the melatonin-producing and -secreting system in the pineal and possibly other organs.