Identification of highly elevated levels of melatonin in bone marrow: Its origin and significance

Dun Xian Tan, Lucien C. Manchester, Russel J. Reiter, Wen Bo Qi, Ming Zhang, Susan T. Weintraub, Javier Cabrera, Rosa M. Sainz, Juan C. Mayo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

310 Scopus citations


Bone marrow is an important tissue in generation of immunocompetent and peripheral blood cells. The progenitors of hematopoietic cells in bone marrow exhibit continuous proliferation and differentiation and they are highly vulnerable to acute or chronic oxidative stress. In this investigation, highly elevated levels of the antioxidant melatonin were identified in rat bone marrow using immunocytochemistry, radioimmunoassay, high performance liquid chromatography with electrochemical detection and mass spectrometry. Night-time melatonin concentrations (expressed as pg melatonin/mg protein) in the bone marrow of rats were roughly two orders of magnitude higher than those in peripheral blood. Measurement of the activities of the two enzymes (N-acetyltransferase (NAT) and hydroxyindole-O-methoxyltransferase (HIOMT)) which synthesize melatonin from serotonin showed that bone marrow cells have measurable NAT activity, but they have very low levels of HIOMT activity (at the one time they were measured). From these studies we could not definitively determine whether melatonin was produced in bone marrow cells or elsewhere. To investigate the potential pineal origin of bone marrow melatonin, long-term (8-month) pinealectomized rats were used to ascertain if the pineal gland is the primary source of this antioxidant. The bone marrow of pinealectomized rats, however, still exhibited high levels of melatonin. These results indicate that a major portion of the bone marrow's melatonin is of extrapineal origin. Immunocytochemistry clearly showed a positive melatonin reaction intracellularly in bone marrow cells. A melatonin concentrating mechanism in these cells is suggested by these findings and this may involve a specific melatonin binding protein. Since melatonin is an endogenous free radical scavenger and an immune-enhancing agent, the high levels of melatonin in bone marrow cells may provide on-site protection to reduce oxidative damage to these highly vulnerable hematopoietic cells and may enhance the immune capacity of cells such as lymphocytes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)206-214
Number of pages9
JournalBiochimica et Biophysica Acta - General Subjects
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Oct 18 1999


  • Antioxidant
  • Bone marrow
  • Free radicals
  • Immunocompetence
  • Melatonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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