The human pineal gland responds to stress-induced sympathetic activation in the second half of the dark phase: Preliminary evidence

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Summary

Previous reports by our group and by others showed that the human pineal gland is unresponsive to stress-induced systemic sympathetic activation either during the day or 3 hrs after the beginning of darkness. In the present study, we investigated whether a longer period of dark exposure is required to demonstrate a stimulatory effect of stress-induced sympathetic activation on the human pineal gland. For this purpose, plasma melatonin levels were measured in six healthy men (aged 25–34 yrs) both in resting condition and before and after a physical exercise performed between 02.40 and 03.00 h, 30 min after exposure to bright light (2000 lux). Light exposure lasted from 02.10 h up to 04.00 h. The exercise consisted in bicycling on a bicycle ergometer at 50% of the personal maximum work capacity (MWC) for 10 min, followed by another 10min of bicycling at 80% of the MWC. In the same subjects, plasma melatonin levels were measured also without exposure to light and with no exercise (control dark condition). The results showed that physical exercise, although inducing a rapid and short-term general sympathetic activation (as shown by significant changes in cardiovascular parameters) was able to increase light-depressed plasma melatonin levels only 5 hrs after the end of the stress (p < 0.0001, group X time interaction, two-way ANOVA with repeated measures). These findings suggest that the human pineal gland is responsive to systemic sympathetic activation induced by physical stress in the second half of the dark phase.