Presence and effects of melatonin in Trypanosoma cruzi

M. Macías, M. N. Rodríguez-Cabezas, R. J. Reiter, A. Osuna, D. Acuña-Castroviejo

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42 Scopus citations


The unicellular organism Trypanosoma cruzi is an eukaryote whose cell cycle mainly occurs under darkness in the insect gut. The unique external phase corresponds to the metacyclic forms, the forms that are able to infect humans, which appear within the insect deyections. Thus, light may be a powerful stressor in this unicell. Epimastigote forms (the parasite forms that grow and transform to metacyclic forms in the insect gut) of Trypanosoma cruzi grow normally when cultured in a LD cycle of 0:24 hr, reaching exponential growth by the 7th day. A pulse of 2 hr of light (LD 2:22) was enough to block the growth of the epimastigotes, an effect that was correlated with the expression of heat-shock proteins during the first 120 min of light exposure. Thereafter, protein synthesis decreased. Light exposure of metacyclic forms also inhibits the parasitization ability. It is known that light regulates the production of melatonin in most animal species studied, including other unicells such as dinoflagellates. T. cruzi contains and synthesizes melatonin and, thus, light-mediated events on the parasite biological cycle could be mediated by light-induced changes in melatonin produced by this unicell. Epimastigotes cultured under continuous darkness produce melatonin over the 24 hr period in a biphasic manner. Coinciding with the melatonin peaks, there was high melatonin efflux from the parasite into the medium. Epimastigotes cultured for 7 days under a LD cycle of 2:22 hr showed a 55% reduction in melatonin content, although this reduction seems not to be related with the growth delay. In fact, incubation of epimastigotes with exogenous melatonin (1 pM) did not affect parasite growth, but significantly reduced their transformation into metacyclic forms by the 7-8th day of treatment. Thus, the light-dependent decrease in melatonin production by the unicell may be responsible, at least partially, for the light-induce parasitization inhibition. Moreover, melatonin production is highest in the metacyclic forms. These data support a link between light, melatonin production and parasitization ability of T. cruzi and suggest the participation of the indoleamine in its biological cycle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-94
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of pineal research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Free radicals
  • Light exposure
  • Light:dark cycle
  • Melatonin
  • Protozoan cell cycle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology


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