Melatonin and cell death: Differential actions on apoptosis in normal and cancer cells

R. M. Sainz, J. C. Mayo, C. Rodriguez, D. X. Tan, S. Lopez-Burillo, R. J. Reiter

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

264 Scopus citations


Melatonin is a natural compound synthesized by a variety of organs. It has been shown to function as a cell-protective agent. Since 1994, when the first paper was published documenting the role of melatonin in apoptosis, the number of reports in this area has increased rapidly. Much of the research conducted falls into three major categories: first, the role of melatonin in inhibiting apoptosis in immune cells; second, the role of melatonin in preventing neuronal apoptosis and finally, the role of melatonin in increasing apoptotic cell death in cancer cells. The mechanisms whereby melatonin influences apoptosis have not clarified, although a number of mechanistic options have been suggested. Apoptotic cell death is a physiological phenomenon related to homeostasis and proper functioning of tissues and organs; however, a failure in the apoptotic program is related to a number of diseases. The participation of melatonin in apoptosis in numerous cell types and its potential importance in a variety of diseases such as immunodeficiency, neurodegeneration and cancer is summarized in this review.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1407-1426
Number of pages20
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2003


  • Apoptosis
  • Cancer cells
  • Free radicals
  • Immune system
  • Melatonin
  • Neuroprotection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


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