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Rev Neurol (Paris). 2014 Nov;170(11):646-52. doi: 10.1016/j.neurol.2014.05.008. Epub 2014 Oct 5.

The internal time-giver role of melatonin. A key for our health.

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UPR 3212, CNRS-university of Strasbourg, institute for cellular and integrative neurosciences, 5, rue Blaise-Pascal, 67084 Strasbourg, France. Electronic address:


Daily rhythms in physiological and behavioural processes are controlled by a network of circadian clocks. In mammals, at the top of the network is a master clock located in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) of the hypothalamus. The nocturnal synthesis and release of melatonin by the pineal gland are tightly controlled by the SCN clock. Several roles of melatonin in the circadian system have been identified. As a major hormonal output, melatonin distributes temporal cues generated by the SCN to the multitude of tissues expressing melatonin receptors. In some target tissues, these melatonin signals can drive daily rhythmicity that would otherwise be lacking. In other target structures, melatonin signals are used for the synchronization (i.e., adjustment of the timing of existing oscillations) of peripheral oscillators. Due to the expression of melatonin receptors in the SCN, endogenous melatonin is also able to feedback onto the master clock. Of note, pharmacological treatment with exogenous melatonin can synchronize the SCN clock. From a clinical point of view, provided that the subject is not exposed to light at night, the daily profile of circulating melatonin provides a reliable estimate of the timing of the human SCN. During the past decade, a number of melatonin agonists have been developed. These drugs may target the SCN for improving circadian timing or act indirectly at some downstream level of the circadian network to restore proper internal synchronization.


Circadian pathologies; Circadian rhythms; Melatonin; Mélatonine; Pathologies circadiennes; Rythmes circadiens

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