Oxygen radical detoxification processes during aging:The functional importance of melatonin

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That free radical destruction of macromolecules is a basis of aging and age-related diseases has considerable experimental support. Melatonin, a hormone produced in organisms as diverse as algae and humans, is believed to have evolved coincident with aerobic metabolism. In all organisms melatonin is produced primarily during the daily period of darkness, with only small amounts being synthesized during the day. In mammals including man, melatonin is produced by and secreted from the pineal gland during the night; however, the night-time production of melatonin falls markedly with aging such that in senescent animals a night- time melatonin rise is barely measurable. This may be significant in terms of aging in the light of recent observations which show that melatonin is a highly efficient free radical scavenger and antioxidant both in vitro and in vivo. In vitro, melatonin has been shown to directly scavenge both the hydroxyl and peroxyl radical, and it does so more efficiently than other known antioxidants. Furthermore, melatonin greatly potentiates the efficiency of previously- discovered endogenous and exogenous antioxidants. In vivo, both physiological and pharmacological levels of melatonin reportedly counteract the devastatingly destructive actions of free radical generating chemicals. For example, melatonin effectively combats DNA damage in rats given massive doses of the chemical carcinogen safrole, and the indole overcomes much of the genomic damage inflicted by ionizing radiation. Also, lipid peroxidation induced by either paraquat, bacterial lipopolysaccharide or H2O2 is highly significantly reduced by concurrent melatonin administration. Finally, cataracts produced in newborn rats by the depletion of the endogenous antioxidant glutathione are prevented by melatonin. These findings provide evidence that melatonin is operative in the cell nucleus, in the aqueous cytosol and in lipid- rich cellular membranes as an antioxidant. Considering this, the loss of this potent antioxidant during aging may be consequential in terms of cellular and organismal aging as well as the onset of age- related diseases. These experimental results from a variety of sources suggest that a more determined approach to the study of melatonin as an anti- aging factor is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)340-351
Number of pages12
JournalAging Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1995


  • delayed aging
  • free radical theory of aging
  • melatonin
  • pineal gland

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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