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Life Sci. 2003 Apr 4;72(20):2183-98.

Melatonin receptors and their regulation: biochemical and structural mechanisms.

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Division of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Duquesne University School of Pharmacy, 421 Mellon Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15282, USA.


There is growing evidence demonstrating the complexity of melatonin's role in modulating a diverse number of physiological processes. This complexity could be attributed to the fact that melatonin receptors belong to two distinct classes of proteins, that is, the G-protein coupled receptor superfamily (MT(1), MT(2)) and the quinone reductase enzyme family (MT(3)) which makes them unique at the molecular level. Also, within the G-protein coupled receptor family of proteins, the MT(1) and MT(2) receptors can couple to multiple and distinct signal transduction cascades whose activation can lead to unique cellular responses. Also, throughout the 24-hour cycle, the receptors' sensitivity to specific cues fluctuates and this sensitivity can be modulated in a homologous fashion, that is, by melatonin itself, and in a heterologous manner, that is, by other cues including the photoperiod or estrogen. This sensitivity of response may reflect changes in melatonin receptor density that also occurs throughout the 24-hour light/dark cycle but out of phase with circulating melatonin levels. The mechanisms that underlie the changes in melatonin receptor density and function are still not well-understood, but data is beginning to show that transcriptional events and G-protein uncoupling may be involved. Even though this area of research is still in its infancy, great strides are being made everyday in elucidating the mechanisms that underlie melatonin receptor function and regulation. The focus of this review is to highlight some of these discoveries in an attempt to reveal the uniqueness of the melatonin receptor family while at the same time provide thought-provoking ideas to further advance this area of research. Thus, a brief overview of each of the mammalian melatonin receptor subtypes and the signal transduction cascades to which they couple will be discussed with a greater emphasis placed on the mechanisms underlying their regulation and the domains within the receptors essential for proper signaling.

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