The distribution of putative melatonin receptors in the brains of two Old World primates of the superfamily Catarrhina, Cercopithecus aethiops and Papio ursinus, was characterized using 2-[125I]iodomelatonin autoradiography. The specific binding demonstrated a discrete distribution pattern. The median eminence was intensely labelled, and examination at the light microscopic level demonstrated that the binding was confined to the small layer of cells comprising the pars tuberalis of the pituitary gland. The collar of pars distalis, present in the baboon (Papio ursinus), was diffusely labelled. No binding was detected in the pars distalis proper or the neural lobe of the pituitary gland. The binding in the suprachiasmatic nuclei was weaker, but well discernible. Diffuse faint specific binding was found in the frontal cortex and the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. Two non-neural sites expressed strong, well-delineated binding: the walls of some brain blood vessels (the vertebral and spinal arteries, the inferior cerebellar and acoustic arteries, the basilar, pericallosal, internal carotid arteries, the arteries forming the circle of Willis) and the choroid plexuses. Binding in the arteries of the circle of Willis, the pars tuberalis and the suprachiasmatic nuclei was readily displaceable. Addition of 1 μM unlabelled 2-iodomelatonin following 45 min of preincubation with the radioactive ligand completely abrogated the binding. Co-incubation with guanosine 5'-O-(3-thiotriphosphate) led to a significant decrease in the apparent binding density in the pars tuberalis and abolished binding in the suprachiasmatic nuclei, but was without effect on the binding in the walls of the adjacent arteries, forming the circle of Willis, in the cortex and in the hippocampus. This qualitative distribution pattern demonstrates that in the two primate species studied, melatonin high-affinity, G-protein-linked binding sites are present in the pars tuberalis and the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nuclei, and that melatonin may be acting as a synchronizer of the endogenous pacemakers' circadian activity, apart from its possible reproductive effects at the level of pars tuberalis, where the highest receptor density was observed. The strongly labelled arterial walls, and the flimsy labelled cortex and hippocampus, expressed different characteristics: though the binding was readily reversible, it was apparently not regulated by a guanine nucleotide-binding protein.
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