Brain Imaging and Behavior

, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 1741–1750 | Cite as

Pineal volume and evening melatonin in young people with affective disorders

  • Joanne S. CarpenterEmail author
  • Amy C. Abelmann
  • Sean N. Hatton
  • Rébecca Robillard
  • Daniel F. Hermens
  • Maxwell R. Bennett
  • Jim Lagopoulos
  • Ian B. Hickie
Original Research


Affective disorders in young people have been associated with disruptions in circadian rhythms, including abnormalities in secretion of the pineal hormone melatonin. Previous research reports relationships between pineal gland volumes, melatonin secretion, and sleep-wake cycles, but the relationship between these factors has not been explored in affective disorders. This study aimed to characterize these factors and explore associations with mood symptoms and functioning in a sample of young people with affective disorders. Pineal volume from magnetic resonance imaging and melatonin assay from evening dim-light saliva collection were evaluated in 50 individuals (15–30 years old; 72 % female) with bipolar, depressive, or anxiety disorders. Actigraphy monitoring was also conducted for approximately two weeks to derive sleep-wake measures. Pineal volume was associated with melatonin secretion across the evening, replicating previous findings in psychiatrically healthy individuals. Pineal volume was smaller in participants in which melatonin onset was not detected. Timing of melatonin secretion was related to sleep timing, but amount of melatonin and pineal volume were not related to any sleep-wake measures. A shorter phase angle between onset of melatonin secretion and sleep onset was associated with longer total sleep time. Lower melatonin levels were associated with poorer social and occupational functioning. Although pineal volume is not directly related to sleep disturbances or symptoms, melatonin may influence both sleep-wake cycles and functioning in the early stages of affective disorder. Causal links remain to be established, however, treatments that target circadian rhythms may be useful in improving functioning in young people with affective disorders.


Sleep Circadian Melatonin Pineal gland Affective disorders MRI 



The authors wish to thank, Mr. Mark Salkeld and Professor David Kennaway for expertise with melatonin assays, and Mr. Bart te Lindert for assistance with Geneactiv actigraphy processing tools.

Compliance with ethical standards


Prof. Hickie was funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council Program Grant (No. 566,529) and Australian Fellowship (No. 464,914). Dr. Robillard received a postdoctoral training award from the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.

Conflict of interest

Dr. Hermens has received honoraria for educational seminars from Janssen-Cilag and Eli Lilly. Prof. Hickie is the Co-Director, Health and Policy, of the Brain and Mind Centre, which operates two early-intervention youth services under contract to headspace. He is a member of the new Australian National Mental Health commission and was previously the CEO of beyondblue: the national depression initiative, and a director of headspace: the national youth mental health foundation. He has led a range of community-based and pharmaceutical industry-supported depression awareness and education and training programs. He has led depression and other mental health research projects that have been supported by a variety of pharmaceutical partners. Current investigator-initiated studies are supported by Servier and Pfizer. He has received honoraria for his contributions to professional educational seminars supported by the pharmaceutical industry (including Servier, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Eli Lilly). All other co-authors have no financial disclosure or conflict of interest to report.

Ethical approval

The study was approved by the University of Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee and all participants gave written informed consent. All procedures performed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional committee and the declaration of Helsinki (2013).

Supplementary material

11682_2016_9650_Fig4_ESM.gif (112 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 1

Example segmentation of the pineal gland (red) and cystic changes (green). The structures were segmented in ITK-SNAP referring to anatomical landmarks and voxel intensity in four perspectives (clockwise from top left: axial, sagittal, coronal, 3D render). Segmentations were consensus rated for accuracy (GIF 111 kb)

11682_2016_9650_MOESM1_ESM.tif (353 kb)
High resolution image (TIFF 353 kb)
11682_2016_9650_MOESM2_ESM.jpg (154 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 2 The relationship between pineal volume and cystic volume (JPEG 154 kb)
11682_2016_9650_MOESM3_ESM.jpg (150 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 3 The relationship between dim light melatonin onset and sleep times. Sleep times and dim light melatonin onset times are represented as time values in decimal form (JPEG 149 kb)
11682_2016_9650_MOESM4_ESM.docx (20 kb)
Supplementary Table 1 (DOCX 19 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joanne S. Carpenter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Amy C. Abelmann
    • 1
  • Sean N. Hatton
    • 1
    • 2
  • Rébecca Robillard
    • 1
    • 3
  • Daniel F. Hermens
    • 1
  • Maxwell R. Bennett
    • 1
  • Jim Lagopoulos
    • 1
    • 4
  • Ian B. Hickie
    • 1
  1. 1.Brain and Mind CentreUniversity of SydneyCamperdownAustralia
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Mental Health ResearchUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  4. 4.Sunshine Coast Mind and Neuroscience- Thompson InstituteUniversity of the Sunshine CoastBirtinyaAustralia

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