Exogenous melatonin induces phase shifts in circadian rhythms according to a phase response curve in nocturnal rodents, several nonmammalian diurnal species, and humans. Daily administration of melatonin entrains rhythms within a narrow circadian window of sensitivity in these species. Entrainment to exogenous melatonin has not previously been demonstrated in a (nonhuman) diurnal mammal. The authors examined the effects of daily melatonin administration (via food) in the diurnal Indian palm squirrel, Funambulus pennanti. The effects of melatonin or vehicle were examined at two times of day: Zeitgeber time 0 (ZT 0: light onset time) and ZT 12 (dark onset time). In addition to melatonin- and vehicle-treated squirrels, there was a third group of squirrels that received no treatment. Squirrels were held initially under 12:12 light-dark (LD) cycles, and melatonin (1 mg/kg) or vehicle was administered in food (a raisin) at either ZT 0 or ZT 12 for a total of 17 days. On the third day of treatment, constant lighting (LL) was imposed. Treatment continued at the same ZTs for a further 14 days. The number of days before free-running commenced under constant conditions was assessed for squirrels in each treatment group. Results showed that regardless of the ZT of administration, the number of days before free-running commenced was significantly greater in melatonin-treated squirrels than in vehicle-treated and untreated squirrels, and there was no difference between vehicle-treated and untreated squirrels. Although there was not a significant difference in the number of days before free-running commenced between the two times of administration, the results showed a trend for greater sensitivity to melatonin at ZT 12. This study has therefore demonstrated that the palm squirrel circadian system is entrainable to melatonin at both times of day tested, ZTs 0 and 12. This finding is in contrast to previous melatonin entrainment studies in other species, where entrainment generally occured at only one phase, around circadian times 10 to 12. Interspecies differences in response to melatonin were discussed.
- Activity rhythm
- Indian palm squirrel