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J Physiol. 2004 Feb 1;554(Pt 3):841-56. Epub 2003 Dec 12.

Maternal melatonin selectively inhibits cortisol production in the primate fetal adrenal gland.

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Departamento de Ciencias Fisiológicas, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Casilla 114-D, Chile.


We tested the hypothesis that in primates, maternal melatonin restrains fetal and newborn adrenal cortisol production. A functional G-protein-coupled MT1 membrane-bound melatonin receptor was detected in 90% gestation capuchin monkey fetal adrenals by (a) 2-[(125)I] iodomelatonin binding (K(d), 75.7 +/- 6.9 pm; B(max), 2.6 +/- 0.4 fmol (mg protein)(-1)), (b) cDNA identification, and (c) melatonin inhibition of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH)- and corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH)-stimulated cortisol but not of dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHAS) production in vitro. Melatonin also inhibited ACTH-induced 3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase mRNA expression. To assess the physiological relevance of these findings, we next studied the effect of chronic maternal melatonin suppression (induced by exposure to constant light during the last third of gestation) on maternal plasma oestradiol during gestation and on plasma cortisol concentration in the 4- to 6-day-old newborn. Constant light suppressed maternal melatonin without affecting maternal plasma oestradiol concentration, consistent with no effect on fetal DHAS, the precursor of maternal oestradiol. However, newborns from mothers under constant light condition had twice as much plasma cortisol as newborns from mothers maintained under a normal light-dark schedule. Newborns from mothers exposed to chronic constant light and daily melatonin replacement had normal plasma cortisol concentration. Our results support a role of maternal melatonin in fetal and neonatal primate cortisol regulation.

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