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Prog Neurobiol. 2008 Jul;85(3):335-53. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2008.04.001. Epub 2008 Apr 16.

Physiological effects of melatonin: role of melatonin receptors and signal transduction pathways.

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  • 1Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Department of Medicine, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, 630 West 168th Street, Room #BB813, NY 10032, USA.


Melatonin, an endogenous signal of darkness, is an important component of the body's internal time-keeping system. As such it regulates major physiological processes including the sleep wake cycle, pubertal development and seasonal adaptation. In addition to its relevant antioxidant activity, melatonin exerts many of its physiological actions by interacting with membrane MT1 and MT2 receptors and intracellular proteins such as quinone reductase 2, calmodulin, calreticulin and tubulin. Here we review the current knowledge about the properties and signaling of melatonin receptors as well as their potential role in health and some diseases. Melatonin MT1 and MT2 receptors are G protein coupled receptors which are expressed in various parts of the CNS (suprachiasmatic nuclei, hippocampus, cerebellar cortex, prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia, substantia nigra, ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens and retinal horizontal, amacrine and ganglion cells) and in peripheral organs (blood vessels, mammary gland, gastrointestinal tract, liver, kidney and bladder, ovary, testis, prostate, skin and the immune system). Melatonin receptors mediate a plethora of intracellular effects depending on the cellular milieu. These effects comprise changes in intracellular cyclic nucleotides (cAMP, cGMP) and calcium levels, activation of certain protein kinase C subtypes, intracellular localization of steroid hormone receptors and regulation of G protein signaling proteins. There are circadian variations in melatonin receptors and responses. Alterations in melatonin receptor expression as well as changes in endogenous melatonin production have been shown in circadian rhythm sleep disorders, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, glaucoma, depressive disorder, breast and prostate cancer, hepatoma and melanoma. This paper reviews the evidence concerning melatonin receptors and signal transduction pathways in various organs. It further considers their relevance to circadian physiology and pathogenesis of certain human diseases, with a focus on the brain, the cardiovascular and immune systems, and cancer.

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