Medical implications of melatonin: receptor-mediated and receptor-independent actions.Adv Med Sci. 2007; 52:11-28.AM
The functional versatility and diversity of melatonin has exceeded everyone's expectations. The evidence is substantial that melatonin has multiple receptor-mediated and receptor-independent actions. Considering the unexpectedly widespread distribution of cellular membrane receptors as well as the existence of nuclear binding sites/receptors and the fact that some of melatonin's actions are receptor-independent means that melatonin likely functions in every cell with which it comes in contact. This is highlighted by the fact that there are no morpho-physiological barriers to melatonin, e.g., the blood-brain barrier. In addition to its widespread actions, melatonin synthesis occurs in widely diverse tissues with its production not being relegated to the pineal gland. This should not be unexpected given that it is present throughout the animal kingdom including species that lack a pineal gland, e.g., insects, and in single cell organisms. In this review, only a few of melatonin's effects that involve the interaction of the indoleamine with receptors are described. These functions include the control of seasonal reproduction, modulation of sleep processes and influences on bone growth and osteoporosis. Among the actions of melatonin that are likely receptor independent and that are reviewed herein include its ability to neutralize free radicals which leads to a reduction in cataract formation, reducing oxidative stress due to exposure to hyperbaric hyperoxia, ameliorating hyperthyroidism and abating the toxicity of sepsis and septic shock. These actions alone speak to the diversity of beneficial effects of melatonin; however, the review is no way near exhaustive in terms of what melatonin is capable of doing. Because of its ubiquitous benefits, the pharmaceutical industry is developing melatonin analogues which interact with melatonin receptors. Clearly, the intent of the drugs is to take advantage of some of melatonin's numerous beneficial effects.