REVIEW: Gastrointestinal Melatonin: Localization, Function, and Clinical Relevance
- Cite this article as:
- Bubenik, G.A. Dig Dis Sci (2002) 47: 2336. doi:10.1023/A:1020107915919
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The gastrointestinal tract of vertebrate species is a rich source of extrapineal melatonin. The concentration of melatonin in the gastrointestinal tissues surpasses blood levels by 10–100 times and there is at least 400× more melatonin in the gastrointestinal tract than in the pineal gland. The gastrointestinal tract contributes significantly to circulating concentrations of melatonin, especially during the daytime and melatonin may serve as an endocrine, paracrine, or autocrine hormone influencing the regeneration and function of epithelium, enhancing the immune system of the gut, and reducing the tone of gastrointestinal muscles. As binding sites for melatonin exhibit circadian variation in various species, it has been hypothesized that some melatonin found in the gastrointestinal tract might be of pineal origin. Unlike the photoperiodically regulated production of melatonin in the pineal, the release of gastrointestinal melatonin seems to be related to the periodicity of food intake. Phylogenetically, melatonin and its binding sites were detected in the gastrointestinal tract of lower vertebrates, birds, and mammals. Melatonin was found also in large quantities in the embryonic tissue of the mammalian and avian gastrointestinal tract. Food intake and, paradoxically, also long-term food deprivation resulted in an increase of tissue and plasma concentrations of melatonin. Melatonin release may have a direct effect on many gastrointestinal tissues but may also well influence the digestive tract indirectly, via the central nervous system and the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves. Melatonin prevents ulcerations of gastrointestinal mucosa by an antioxidant action, reduction of secretion of hydrochloric acid, stimulation of the immune system, fostering epithelial regeneration, and increasing microcirculation. Because of its unique properties, melatonin could be considered for prevention or treatment of colorectal cancer, ulcerative colitis, gastric ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and childhood colic.