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J Pineal Res. 2005 Apr;38(3):145-52.

The human pineal gland and melatonin in aging and Alzheimer's disease.

Author information

  • 1Netherlands Institute for Brain Research, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Abstract

The pineal gland is a central structure in the circadian system which produces melatonin under the control of the central clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN and the output of the pineal gland, i.e. melatonin, are synchronized to the 24-hr day by environmental light, received by the retina and transmitted to the SCN via the retinohypothalamic tract. Melatonin not only plays an important role in the regulation of circadian rhythms, but also acts as antioxidant and neuroprotector that may be of importance in aging and Alzheimer's disease (AD). Circadian disorders, such as sleep-wake cycle disturbances, are associated with aging, and even more pronounced in AD. Many studies have reported disrupted melatonin production and rhythms in aging and in AD that, as we showed, are taking place as early as in the very first preclinical AD stages (neuropathological Braak stage I-II). Degeneration of the retina-SCN-pineal axis may underlie these changes. Our recent studies indicate that a dysfunction of the sympathetic regulation of pineal melatonin synthesis by the SCN is responsible for melatonin changes during the early AD stages. Reactivation of the circadian system (retina-SCN-pineal pathway) by means of light therapy and melatonin supplementation, to restore the circadian rhythm and to relieve the clinical circadian disturbances, has shown promising positive results.

PMID:
15725334
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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