Antioxidant properties of melatonin - an emerging mystery.


Beyer CE, Steketee JD, Saphier D




Biochem Pharmacol


Over three centuries ago, the French philosopher Rene Descartes described the pineal gland as "the seat of the soul." However, it was not until the late 1950s that the chemical identity and biosynthesis of melatonin, the principal hormone secreted by the pineal body, were revealed. Melatonin, named from the Greek melanos, meaning black, and tonos, meaning color, is a biogenic amine with structural similarities to serotonin. The mechanisms mediating the synthesis of melatonin are transcriptionally regulated by the photoperiodic environment. Once synthesized, the neurohormone is a biologic modulator of mood, sleep, sexual behavior, reproductive alterations, immunologic function, and circadian rhythms. Moreover, melatonin exerts its regulatory roles through high-affinity, pertussis toxin-sensitive, G-protein (or guanine nucleotide binding protein) coupled receptors that reside primarily in the eye, kidney, gastrointestinal tract, blood vessels, and brain. Additional evidence also indicates a role for melatonin in aging and age-related diseases, probably related to its efficient free radical scavenger (or antioxidant) activity. The potential clinical benefit of melatonin as an antioxidant is remarkable, suggesting that it may be of use in the treatment of many pathophysiological disease states including various cancers, hypertension, pulmonary diseases, and a variety of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. This review summarizes the biosynthesis of melatonin and its many endocrine and physiological functions, including its therapeutic potential in human disease states. Emphasis is placed on the recent speculations indicating that this pineal hormone serves as an endogenous antioxidant agent with proficient free radical scavenging activity.