Modulation of anticancer cytokines IL-2 and IL-12 by melatonin and the other pineal indoles 5-methoxytryptamine and 5-methoxytryptophol in the treatment of human neoplasms

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000;917:560-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2000.tb05421.x.


Lymphocyte number still remains one of the most important immune parameters predicting the prognosis of advanced cancer patients. IL-2 and IL-12 are the main antitumor cytokines in humans, and their effect is modulated by the neuroendocrine system, mainly by the pineal gland through the circadian release of melatonin (MLT) and perhaps that of other indole hormones, such as 5-methoxytryptamine (5-MTT), and 5-methoxytryptophol (5-MTP). MLT has been proven to exert important antitumor immunomodulating effects, whereas the possible immunomodulatory properties of the other pineal indoles are still controversial. In an attempt to better define the pineal neuroendocrine regulation of the anticancer cytokine network, we have evaluated in metastatic solid-tumor patients the effects on lymphocyte number induced by different neuroimmune regimens, consisting of MLT alone (20 mg/day orally in the evening), subcutaneous (s.c.) low-dose IL-2 alone (3 MIU/day in the evening for 6 days/week), s.c. low-dose IL-12 alone (0.5 mcg/kg once/week in the morning), IL-12 plus MLT, IL-2 plus MLT, and IL-2 plus MLT plus 5-MTT (10 mg/day orally in the afternoon) plus 5-MTP (5 mg/day orally at noon). The results showed the following evidence: (1) MLT alone is unable to induce lymphocytosis; (2) MLT significantly enhances IL-2-induced lymphocytosis; (3) IL-12 alone determines lymphocytopenia, which can be reversed by MLT; (4) IL-2 plus IL-12 induces a very pronounced lymphocytosis, which can be further amplified by MLT; (5) a total pineal endocrine replacement therapy with MLT, 5-MTT, and 5-MTP further increases IL-2-induced lymphocytosis with respect to MLT plus IL-2 alone. Therefore, this study confirms that IL-2- and IL-12-dependent anticancer immunity is under a pineal modulation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • 5-Methoxytryptamine / administration & dosage
  • 5-Methoxytryptamine / immunology
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / administration & dosage*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Indoles / administration & dosage
  • Indoles / immunology
  • Interleukin-12 / administration & dosage
  • Interleukin-12 / immunology
  • Interleukin-2 / administration & dosage
  • Interleukin-2 / immunology
  • Melatonin / administration & dosage
  • Melatonin / immunology
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neuroimmunomodulation
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Indoles
  • Interleukin-2
  • Interleukin-12
  • 5-Methoxytryptamine
  • methoxytryptophol
  • Melatonin