In the rat pineal gland, the activity of serotonin N-acetyltransferase (NAT) and the concentration of melatonin are normally high at night; conversely, the concentration of serotonin (5-HT), the precursor of melatonin, is low. Since tryptophan administration increases the concentration of pineal 5-HT at night, we examined its effect of melatonin production. Nighttime tryptophan loading led to substantial increases in pineal 5-hydroxytryptophan, 5-hydroxyindole acetic acid (5-HIAA), and 5-HT but a highly significant reduction in NAT activity in comparison to saline-injected controls. In contrast to other measured indoles, melatonin levels also were significantly diminished by tryptophan loading. Nocturnally high pineal norepinephrine levels were unaltered by tryptophan administration. The idea that high concentrations of 5-HT could lead to substrate inhibition of NAT activity was not supported by kinetic analysis of control NAT levels versus tryptophan-inhibited NAT activity under varied substrate concentrations. Hypotheses to explain these results include the possibility that tryptophan inhibition of melatonin synthesis is mediated by the release of 5-HT from the pinealocyte and its subsequent autocrine action on melatonin production.