Melatonin serum levels in rheumatoid arthritis

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Jun:966:276-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2002.tb04227.x.


The pineal hormone melatonin (MLT) exerts a variety of effects on the immune system. MLT activates immune cells and enhances inflammatory cytokine and nitric oxide production. Cytokines are strongly involved in the synovial immune and inflammatory response in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and reach the peak of concentration in the early morning, when MLT serum level is higher. Nocturnal MLT serum levels were evaluated in 10 RA patients and in 6 healthy controls. Blood samples were obtained at 8 and 12 p.m., as well as at 2, 4, 6, and 8 a.m. MLT serum levels at 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. were found to be higher in RA patients than in controls (p < 0.05). In both RA patients and healthy subjects, MLT progressively increased from 8 p.m. to the first hours of the morning, when the peak level was reached (p < 0.02). However, MLT serum level reached the peak at least two hours before in RA patients than in controls (p < 0.05). Subsequently, in RA patients, MLT concentration showed a plateau level lasting two to three hours, an effect not observed in healthy controls. After 2 a.m., MLT levels decreased similarly in both RA patients and healthy subjects. Several clinical symptoms of RA, such as morning gelling, stiffness, and swelling, which are more evident in the early morning, might be related to the neuroimmunomodulatory effects exerted by MLT on synovitis and might be explained by the imbalance between cortisol serum levels (lower in RA patients) and MLT serum levels (higher in RA patients).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / blood*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / physiopathology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / blood*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / physiopathology
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Edema / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Melatonin / blood*
  • Melatonin / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimmunomodulation
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology
  • Pineal Gland / metabolism
  • Secretory Rate


  • Cytokines
  • Melatonin
  • Hydrocortisone