, Volume 49, Issue 8, pp 654–664 | Cite as

The melatonin rhythm: both a clock and a calendar

  • R. J. Reiter
Multi-Author Reviews Melatonin and the Light-Dark Zeitgeber in Vertebrates, Invertebrates and Unicellular Organisms


The paper briefly reviews the data which shows that the circadian production and secretion of melatonin by the pineal gland can impart both daily, i.e., clock, and seasonal, i.e., calendar, information to the organism. The paper summarizes the 3 patterns of nocturnal melatonin production that have been described. Clearly, regardless of the pattern of nocturnal melatonin production a particular species normally displays, the duration of nightime elevated melatonin is proportional to the duration of the night length. Since daylength under natural conditions changes daily the melatonin rhythm, which adjusts to the photoperiod sends time of year information to the organism. The melatonin receptors which subserve the clock message sent by the pineal gland in the form of a melatonin cycle may reside in the biological clock itself, namely, the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). The melatonin receptors that mediate seasonal changes in reproductive physiology are presumably those that are located on the pars tuberalis cells of the anterior pituitary gland. Besides these receptors which likely mediate clock and calendar information, melatonin receptors have been described in other organs. Interestingly, the distribution of melatonin receptors is highly species-specific. Whereas the clock and calendar information that the melatonin cycle imparts to the organism relies on cell membrane receptors, a fact that is of some interest considering the high lipophilicity of melatonin, recent studies indicate that other functions of melatonin may require no receptor whatsoever.

Key words

Pineal gland melatonin rhythm circadian rhythm seasonal reproduction melatonin receptors biological clock 


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© Birkhäuser Verlag Basel 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. J. Reiter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cellular and Structural BiologyUniversity of Texas Health Science CenterSan AntonioUSA

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