Melatonin and its relation to the immune system and inflammation

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000;917:376-86. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2000.tb05402.x.


Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) was initially thought to be produced exclusively in the pineal gland. Subsequently its synthesis was demonstrated in other organs, for example, the retinas, and very high concentrations of melatonin are found at other sites, for example, bone marrow cells and bile. The origin of the high level of melatonin in these locations has not been definitively established, but it is likely not exclusively of pineal origin. Melatonin has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory effects, among a number of actions. Melatonin reduces tissue destruction during inflammatory reactions by a number of means. Thus melatonin, by virtue of its ability to directly scavenge toxic free radicals, reduces macromolecular damage in all organs. The free radicals and reactive oxygen and nitrogen species known to be scavenged by melatonin include the highly toxic hydroxyl radical (.OH), peroxynitrite anion (ONOO-), and hypochlorous acid (HOCl), among others. These agents all contribute to the inflammatory response and associated tissue destruction. Additionally, melatonin has other means to lower the damage resulting from inflammation. Thus, it prevents the translocation of nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappa B) to the nucleus and its binding to DNA, thereby reducing the upregulation of a variety of proinflammatory cytokines, for example, interleukins and tumor neurosis factor-alpha. Finally, there is indirect evidence that melatonin inhibits the production of adhesion molecules that promote the sticking of leukocytes to endothelial cells. By this means melatonin attenuates transendothelial cell migration and edema, which contribute to tissue damage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immunity / physiology*
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Melatonin / immunology*
  • Neuroimmunomodulation


  • Melatonin