Dysfunction of serotonergic activity and emotional responses across the light-dark cycle in mice lacking melatonin MT2 receptors

Stefano Comai, Danilo De Gregorio, Luca Posa, Rafael Ochoa-Sanchez, Annalida Bedini, Gabriella Gobbi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Melatonin (MLT) levels fluctuate according to the external light/dark cycle in both diurnal and nocturnal mammals. We previously demonstrated that melatonin MT2 receptor knockout (MT2−/−) mice show a decreased nonrapid eye movement sleep over 24 hours and increased wakefulness during the inactive (light) phase. Here, we investigated the role of MT2 receptors in physiological light/dark cycle fluctuations in the activity of dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) serotonin (5-HT) neurons and anxiety- and depression-like behavior. We found that the 5-HT burst-firing activity was tonically reduced across the whole 24 hours in MT2−/− mice compared with MT2+/+ mice. Importantly, the physiological changes in the spontaneous firing activity of DRN 5-HT neurons during the light/dark cycle were nullified in MT2−/− mice, with a higher DRN 5-HT neural firing activity during the light phase in MT2−/− than in MT2+/+ mice. The role of MT2 receptors over DRN 5-HT neurons was confirmed by acute pharmacological studies in which the selective MT2 receptors agonist UCM1014 dose dependently inhibited DRN 5-HT activity, mostly during the dark phase. Compared with MT2+/+, MT2−/− mice displayed an anxiety-like phenotype in the novelty-suppressed feeding and in the light/dark box tests; while anxiety levels in the light/dark box test were lower during the dark than during the light phase in MT2+/+ mice, the opposite was seen in MT2−/− mice. No differences between MT2+/+ and MT2−/− mice were observed for depression-like behavior in the forced swim and in the sucrose preference tests. These results suggest that MT2 receptor genetic inactivation impacts 5-HT neurotransmission and interferes with anxiety levels by perturbing the physiologic light/dark pattern.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12653
JournalJournal of Pineal Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2020


  • anxiety
  • light/dark cycle
  • melatonin
  • MT receptors
  • serotonin
  • UCM1014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology


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