Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is a chemical mediator produced in the pineal gland and other sites in the body. The melatonin found in the blood is derived almost exclusively from the pineal gland. Since the pineal synthesizes melatonin primarily at night, blood levels of the indole are also higher at night (5-15 fold) than during the day. Some individuals on a nightly basis produce twice as much melatonin as others of the same age. Through-out life, the melatonin rhythm gradually wanes such that, in advanced age, melatonin production is usually at a minimum. Melatonin was recently found to be a free radical scavenger and antioxidant. It has been shown, in the experimental setting, to protect against both free radical induced DNA damage and oxidative stress-mediated lipid peroxidation. Pharmacologically, melatonin has been shown to reduce oxidative damage caused by such toxins as the chemical carcinogen safrole, carbon tetrachloride, paraquat, bacterial lipopolysaccharide, kainic acid, δ-aminolevulinic and amyloid β peptide of Alzheimer's disease as well as a model of Parkinson's disease involving the drug 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP). Additionally, the oxidative damage caused by agents such as ionizing radiation and excessive exercise is reduced by melatonin. Since free radical-induced molecular injury may play a significant role in aging, melatonin's ability to protect against it suggests a potential function of melatonin in deferring aging and age-related, free radical-based diseases. Besides its ability to abate oxidative damage, other beneficial features of melatonin may be important in combating the signs of aging; these include melatonin's immune-stimulating function, its sleep-promoting ability, its function as an anti-viral agent, and general protective actions at the cellular level. Definitive tests of the specific functions of physiological levels of melatonin in processes of aging are currently being conducted.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geriatrics and Gerontology