, Volume 49, Issue 8, pp 665–670

The contribution of extrapineal sites of melatonin synthesis to circulating melatonin levels in higher vertebrates

  • G. Huether
Multi-Author Reviews Melatonin and the Light-Dark Zeitgeber in Vertebrates, Invertebrates and Unicellular Organisms

DOI: 10.1007/BF01923948

Cite this article as:
Huether, G. Experientia (1993) 49: 665. doi:10.1007/BF01923948


While the production of melatonin in higher vertebrates occurs in other organs and tissues besides the pineal, the contribution of extrapineal sites of melatonin synthesis such as the retina, the Harderian glands and the gut to circulating melatonin levels is still a matter of debate. The amount of melatonin found in the gastrointestinal tract is much higher than in any other organ including the pineal and the gut appears to make a significant contribution to circulating melatonin at least under certain conditions. The gut has been identified to be the major source of the elevated plasma concentrations of melatonin seen after tryptophan administration and of the changes of circulating melatonin level induced by the feeding regime. Whereas the circadian and circannual fluctuations of the concentration of melatonin in the blood seem to be triggered by changes of the photoenvironment and its effect of pineal melatonin formation, basal daytime melatonin levels and the extent of their elevation at nighttime appear to be additionally controlled by nutritional factors, such as the amount and the composition of ingested food and therefore availability of tryptophan as a rate-limiting precursor of melatonin formation by the enterochromaffin cells of the gastrointestinal tract.

Key words

Melatonin pineal extrapineal Harderian glands retina gastrointestinal tract enterochromaffin cells nutrition tryptophan circadian rhythms 

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag Basel 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. Huether
    • 1
  1. 1.Neurobiological Research UnitPsychiatrische Klinik der Universität GöttingenGöttingen(Germany)

Personalised recommendations