Research Summary: Melatonin Distribution Reveals Clues to Its Biological Significance in Basal Metazoans
Although nearly ubiquitous in nature, the precise biological significance of endogenous melatonin is poorly understood in phylogenetically basal taxa. In the present work, we describe insights into the functional role of melatonin at the most “basal” level of metazoan evolution. Hitherto unknown morphological determinants of melatonin distribution were evaluated in Nematostella vectensis by detecting melatonin immunoreactivity and examining the spatial gene expression patterns of putative melatonin biosynthetic and receptor elements that are located at opposing ends of the melatonin signaling pathway. Immuno-melatonin profiling indicated an elaborate interaction with reproductive tissues, reinforcing previous conjectures of a melatonin-responsive component in anthozoan reproduction. In situ hybridization (ISH) to putative melatonin receptor elements highlighted the possibility that the bioregulatory effects of melatonin in anthozoan reproduction may be mediated by interactions with membrane receptors, as in higher vertebrates. Another intriguing finding of the present study pertains to the prevalence of melatonin in centralized nervous structures. This pattern may be of great significance given that it 1) identifies an ancestral association between melatonin and key neuronal components and 2) potentially implies that certain effects of melatonin in basal species may be spread widely by regionalized nerve centers.