The role of the pineal gland and adrenocorticosteroids in circadian rhythmicity of immune function was investigated in Sprague-Dawley rats that either had been pinealectomized (PX) or had undergone superior cervical ganglionectomy (SCGX), which functionally denervates the pineal. For both experiments, conducted between August and October, rats were entrained to a 10-h light:14-h dark cycle and fed ad libitum. The circadian rhythm in monocytes (ANOVA, p < .01 for Control + Sham + PX samples) tended to parallel that of plasma corticosteroid levels (ANOVA, p < .01) with the peak during early dark and the nadir at early light. In comparison, suppressor/cytotoxic T cells and B cells tended to be more frequent during early light with minimum levels during early dark (ANOVA, p < .05 and .01, respectively, for Control + Sham + PX samples). Natural killer (NK) activity in control animals varied significantly (ANOVA, p < .05) over the light:dark cycle with peak activity during early dark in the SCGX experiment, but was only slightly elevated during late dark in the PX experiment. PX animals exhibited increased frequency of NK cells, but only in samples collected during the day (t test, p < .05). This effect was not observed in sham-operated PX controls and in SCGX animals. Neither PX nor SCGX had a significant (ANOVA) effect on plasma corticosterone levels. These observations in the rat are consistent with findings in mice and humans that corticosteroids play an important general role in circadian rhythmicity of immune functions. In contrast, the present study suggests that pineal gland influence of immune function(s) is more specific and that pineal gland interaction with NK cells has a circadian component.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Behavioral Neuroscience