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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000;917:404-15.

Melatonin mediates seasonal changes in immune function.

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Behavioral Neuroendocrinology Group, Departments of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Biochemistry, Reproductive Biology Division, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland 21218-2686, USA.


Field studies indicate that immune function is compromised and the prevalence of many diseases are elevated during winter when energetic stressors are extensive. Presumably, individuals would enjoy a survival advantage if seasonally recurring stressors could be anticipated and countered by shunting energy reserves to bolster immune function. The primary environmental cue that permits physiological anticipation of season is daily photoperiod, a cue that is mediated by melatonin. However, other environmental factors, including low food availability and ambient temperatures, may interact with photoperiod to affect immune function and disease processes. This paper will review laboratory studies that consistently report enhanced immune function in short day lengths. Prolonged melatonin treatment mimics short days, and both in vitro and in vivo melatonin treatment enhances various aspects of immune function, especially cell-mediated immune function, in nontropical rodents. Reproductive responsiveness to melatonin appears to affect immune function. In sum, melatonin may be part of an integrative system to coordinate reproductive, immunologic, and other physiological processes to cope successfully with energetic stressors during winter.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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