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Behavioural Processes

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© 2016. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license

Dorela D. Shuboni, Amna A. Agha, Thomas K.H. Groves, Andrew J. Gall, The contribution of the pineal gland on daily rhythms and masking in diurnal grass rats, Arvicanthis niloticus, Behavioural Processes, Volume 128, 2016, Pages 1-8, ISSN 0376-6357,


Melatonin is a hormone rhythmically secreted at night by the pineal gland in vertebrates. In diurnal mammals, melatonin is present during the inactive phase of the rest/activity cycle, and in primates it directly facilitates sleep and decreases body temperature. However, the role of the pineal gland for the promotion of sleep at night has not yet been studied in non-primate diurnal mammalian species. Here, the authors directly examined the hypothesis that the pineal gland contributes to diurnality in Nile grass rats by decreasing activity and increasing sleep at night, and that this could occur via effects on circadian mechanisms or masking, or both. Removing the pineal gland had no effect on the hourly distribution of activity across a 12:12 light-dark (LD) cycle or on the patterns of sleep-like behavior at night. Masking effects of light at night on activity were also not significantly different in pinealectomized and control grass rats, as 1h pulses of light stimulated increases in activity of sham and pinealectomized animals to a similar extent. In addition, the circadian regulation of activity was unaffected by the surgical condition of the animals. Our results suggest that the pineal gland does not contribute to diurnality in the grass rat, thus highlighting the complexity of temporal niche transitions. The current data raise interesting questions about how and why genetic and neural mechanisms linking melatonin to sleep regulatory systems might vary among mammals that reached a diurnal niche via parallel and independent pathways.


Circadian rhythm, Masking, Melatonin, Pineal, Sleep