Pharmacy World and Science

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 18–27 | Cite as

Melatonin and its physiological and therapeutic properties

  • J.Z. Nowak
  • J.B. Zawilska


Melatonin is a hormone produced mainly by the pineal gland in most vertebrate species, including humans. Recent metabolic, receptor and functional studies created a picture of the melatoninergic system(s) in living organisms, its organization, physiology and a role in some pathologic conditions. The melatonin‐generating system is characterized by three basic features: (1) photosensitivity, (2) diurnal (or circadian) rhythmicity (with highest levels of melatonin production occurring at night in darkness), and (3) age‐related decline in its activity. Cyclic nocturnal increases of melatonin levels are proportional to the length of nights (or dark periods of an imposed light‐dark cycle); the hormone thus conveys a photoperiodic message, and functions in an organism as an internal biochemical clock and calendar. Biological actions of melatonin are mediated via specific melatonin receptors, whose distribution in the body is uneven, yet with decisively highest density in the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus, pars tuberalis of the pituitary, and the retina (particularly in birds and lower vertebrates). Such a distribution of melatonin receptors suggests that the principal physiological role of the hormone is related to both chronobiology and modulation of the body hormonal milieu. This review surveys recent developments in the melatonin field, and summarizes current knowledge on the melatoninergic mechanisms, including the therapeutic aspect related to the hormone.

Melatonin Pineal gland Serotonin N‐acetyltransferase Circadian rhythm Seasonal reproduction Circadian rhythm sleep disorders Free radicals 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • J.Z. Nowak
    • 1
  • J.B. Zawilska
    • 2
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Biogenic AminesPolish Academy of SciencesLódźPoland
  2. 2.Department of PharmacodynamicsMedical University of LódźPoland

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