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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1993 Feb;76(2):295-301.

Melatonin receptors in human hypothalamus and pituitary: implications for circadian and reproductive responses to melatonin.

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  • 1Laboratory of Developmental Chronobiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston 02114.


Two major physiological roles for the pineal hormone melatonin (MEL) have been identified in vertebrates: the hormone influences circadian rhythmicity and regulates seasonal responses to changes in day length. These effects of MEL are thought to be due to interaction with specific, high affinity MEL receptors in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and hypophysial pars tuberalis (PT), respectively. Using the ligand 2-[125I]iodo-MEL ([125I]MEL), we examined putative MEL receptors in these regions in human and monkey tissue specimens by in vitro autoradiography. Specific, high affinity [125I]MEL-binding sites (Kd, 53.3 +/- 13.0 pM) were consistently observed in the human SCN. In contrast, specific [125I]MEL binding was detectable in the PT of only one of the eight human specimens examined. Specific [125I]MEL binding was also detected in the pars distalis of several subjects, but with an inconsistent distribution. In rhesus monkey tissue, MEL receptors were readily detected in the SCN and, as in all other seasonally breeding species examined to date, in the PT. The relative absence of MEL receptors from the human PT suggests that neuroendocrine responses to MEL in humans may occur by fundamentally different mechanisms than those that underlie the photoperiodic regulation of reproduction in seasonally breeding species.

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