The annual photoperiod cycle provides the critical environmental cue synchronizing rhythms of life in seasonal habitats. In 1936, Bünning proposed a circadian-based coincidence timer for photoperiodic synchronization in plants. Formal studies support the universality of this so-called coincidence timer, but we lack understanding of the mechanisms involved. Here we show in mammals that long photoperiods induce the circadian transcription factor BMAL2, in the pars tuberalis of the pituitary, and triggers summer biology through the eyes absent/thyrotrophin (EYA3/TSH) pathway. Conversely, long-duration melatonin signals on short photoperiods induce circadian repressors including DEC1, suppressing BMAL2 and the EYA3/TSH pathway, triggering winter biology. These actions are associated with progressive genome-wide changes in chromatin state, elaborating the effect of the circadian coincidence timer. Hence, circadian clock-pituitary epigenetic pathway interactions form the basis of the mammalian coincidence timer mechanism. Our results constitute a blueprint for circadian-based seasonal timekeeping in vertebrates.
ARNTL Transcription Factors, Animals, Circadian Clocks, DNA-Binding Proteins, Epigenesis, Genetic, Gene Expression Regulation, Male, Melatonin, Photoperiod, Pituitary Gland, Seasons, Sheep