Effects of melatonin on macrophages/microglia in postnatal rat brain

J Pineal Res. 1999 Apr;26(3):158-68. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-079x.1999.tb00578.x.


The present study examined the response of macrophages/microglia to multiple injections of melatonin in the pineal gland and different regions of the brain. The macrophages/microglia showed a significant increase in cell numbers and upregulation of complement type 3 receptors (CR3), major histocompatibility complex class I (MHC I) and class II (MHC II) antigens, and antigens of monocyte/macrophage lineage, as detected by the antibodies OX-42, OX-18, OX-6, and ED1, respectively. The upregulation of the above antigens was observed in 1-d-old rats given daily injections of melatonin and killed at 7-11 d of age; no noticeable change was observed at earlier time intervals. The macrophages/microglia expressing the above antigens appeared round and showed a vacuolated cytoplasm compared with ramified cells in the control rats. Upregulation of CD4 antigens as detected with the antibody W3/25 was also observed in macrophages/microglia in the corpus callosum and epiplexus cells in the lateral ventricles, but not in the pineal gland and the cerebral cortex in the same age group. In rats killed between 2 and 5 d, and at 14 d of age after melatonin treatment, the immunoreactivities of macrophages/microglia with the above mentioned antibodies were comparable to cells in the control rats. Immunoreactive cells were not detected in any of the age groups in melatonin-treated or control rats with the antibodies W3/13 and OX-33, which are markers for T and B lymphocytes. It is concluded that CR3 receptors, MHC antigens, and CD4 antigens on macrophages/microglia are upregulated following melatonin administration. On the other hand, once the melatonin treatment is discontinued the expression of the various antigens/receptors returns to normal levels, suggesting that increased immune potentiality and its maintenance in these cells require the continuous action of the drug.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / drug effects
  • CD4 Antigens / metabolism
  • Cell Count / drug effects
  • Cell Size / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Ventricles / cytology
  • Cerebral Ventricles / drug effects
  • Corpus Callosum / cytology
  • Corpus Callosum / drug effects
  • Cytoplasm / drug effects
  • Histocompatibility Antigens / metabolism
  • Macrophage-1 Antigen / metabolism
  • Macrophages / cytology
  • Macrophages / drug effects*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Melatonin / pharmacology*
  • Microglia / cytology
  • Microglia / drug effects*
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • Pineal Gland / cytology
  • Pineal Gland / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects
  • Vacuoles / drug effects


  • CD4 Antigens
  • Histocompatibility Antigens
  • Macrophage-1 Antigen
  • Melatonin