The pineal gland is a neuroendocrine gland responsible for nocturnal synthesis of melatonin. During early development of the rodent pineal gland from the roof of the diencephalon, homeobox genes of the orthodenticle homeobox (Otx)- and paired box (Pax)-families are expressed and are essential for normal pineal development consistent with the well-established role that homeobox genes play in developmental processes. However, the pineal gland appears to be unusual because strong homeobox gene expression persists in the pineal gland of the adult brain. Accordingly, in addition to developmental functions, homeobox genes appear to be key regulators in postnatal phenotype maintenance in this tissue. In this paper, we review ontogenetic and phylogenetic aspects of pineal development and recent progress in understanding the involvement of homebox genes in rodent pineal development and adult function. A working model is proposed for understanding the sequential action of homeobox genes in controlling development and mature circadian function of the mammalian pinealocyte based on knowledge from detailed developmental and daily gene expression analyses in rats, the pineal phenotypes of homebox gene-deficient mice and studies on development of the retinal photoreceptor; the pinealocyte and retinal photoreceptor share features not seen in other tissues and are likely to have evolved from the same ancestral photodetector cell.
Neurochemical Research, 2013, Vol 38, p. 1100-1112