Circadian rhythm of melatonin, corticosterone and phagocytosis: effect of stress

J Pineal Res. 2001 Apr;30(3):180-7. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-079x.2001.300307.x.


Melatonin has a functional connection with the immune system. Phagocyte function is altered by extirpation of the pineal gland, one source of melatonin, or by in vitro incubation of phagocytes with pharmacological concentrations of melatonin. Given that its synthesis by pinealocytes is under the control of the noradrenaline released by the sympathetic postganglionaric nerve endings, the present work was aimed at evaluating the circadian rhythm of melatonin, corticosterone, and phagocytosis in BALB/c mice in basal and stress situations. Peritoneal macrophages were used as phagocytes, latex beads as the particles to be ingested, and forced swimming to exhaustion as the stress situation. Radioimmunoassay was used to determine the animals' serum hormone levels. Samples were taken every 3 hr in the period from 04:00 to 22:00 hr, and every 30 min during the remaining period from 22:00 to 04:00 hr. Control mice presented a short-term melatonin peak at 23:30 hr, while the maximum inert-particle ingestion capacity of the peritoneal macrophages also occurred during the night but at 03:30 hr. The corticosterone levels in control mice presented a circadian rhythm with a day-time maximum peak (16:00 hr). Compared with the controls, the animals subjected to stress maintained, although at lower values, the melatonin peak at 23:30 hr, but they presented a loss of the rhythm of serum corticosterone levels, and the corticosterone levels and the macrophage phagocytic capacity were greater at all hours of the day.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Corticosterone / blood*
  • Latex
  • Macrophages, Peritoneal / physiology
  • Melatonin / blood*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Microspheres
  • Phagocytosis / physiology*
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Stress, Physiological / blood
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*


  • Latex
  • Melatonin
  • Corticosterone