It has long been known that the avian brain is capable of light detection independently of the eyes. The photoreceptive molecule neuropsin (OPN5) was identified in mammalian and avian brains, and shown to respond to biologically relevant light wavelengths. Whether OPN5 is functionally involved in light detection is unknown. Daylength plays a critical role in regulating the neuroendocrine control of reproduction in birds. The presence of light during a 'photoinducible' phase of the circadian cycle, which occurs 12-16h after dawn, results in marked changes in hypothalamic gene expression. These changes ultimately control gonadotropin release from the pituitary gland that, in turn, stimulates gonadal development. In this study, we first measured OPN5 expression in the mediobasal hypothalamus (MBH) in border canaries during the photoinducible period in relation to thyrotropin (TSH) β-subunit mRNA expression, which is implicated in the control of avian reproduction. Second, the knockdown of OPN5 via small interfering RNA antisense in the MBH revealed that there is an inhibitory input in the photoinduced regulation of TSHβ mRNA expression. Our data indicate that a decrease in OPN5 mRNA expression is associated with the facilitation in TSHβ mRNA expression in the MBH, a critical step for the light-induced increase in gonadal recrudescence. We hypothesise that the removal of an inhibitory input by OPN5 in birds may be a step that occurs during the photoinducible period. Given the distribution of OPN5 in the brain and periphery, this suggests a possible multifunctional role for light information in regulating other physiological processes.
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