Melatonin reduces non-adrenergic, non-cholinergic relaxant neurotransmission by inhibition of nitric oxide synthase activity in the gastrointestinal tract of rodents in vitro

J Pineal Res. 2002 Sep;33(2):101-8. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-079x.2002.02909.x.


The aim of the present study was to investigate the effects of melatonin on non-adrenergic, non-cholinergic (NANC) relaxant neurotransmission in the gastrointestinal tract, which is mainly mediated by nitrergic and peptidergic mechanisms. Melatonin (10(-7)-10(-3) M) had no effect on the basal tonus of the rat gastric fundus smooth muscle. Relaxant responses following electrical stimulation(40 V; 0.5 ms pulse duration; 10 s stimulation duration) under NANC conditions on a 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT, 10(-7) M) contraction plateau were elicited at frequencies in the range of 0.5-16 Hz. Melatonin significantly reduced these inhibitory NANC responses (16 Hz without melatonin: -103 +/- 6.3%; melatonin 10(-5) M: -80.4 +/- 7.5%; melatonin 10(-4) M: -39.1 +/- 17.1%). Intracellular recording was carried out in a mouse colonic preparation. Electrical neural stimulation of the mouse colonic neurons caused biphasic intracellular hyperpolarization in smooth-muscle cells. The initial fast component is apamin-sensitive, and the following slow component is dependent on nitrergic mechanisms, as it is abolished in the presence of NG-nitro-L-arginine (L-NNA). Melatonin significantly reduced the nitric oxide-dependent slow component of neurally transmitted hyperpolarization, whereas the initial fast component was left unchanged. In a synaptosomal preparation of the enteric nervous system of rat intestine, enzymatic nitric oxide synthase (NOS) activity was significantly reduced by melatonin at concentrations ranging from 10(-7) to 10(-4) M (basal preparation including cofactors: 61.2 +/- 9.4 fmol/mg; melatonin 10(-4) M: 39.2 +/- 6.9 fmol/mg). Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) studies were conducted to investigate the melatonin receptors (mt(1), MT(2) and MT(3)) present in the esophagus, stomach and ileum of the rat. The presence of mt1 mRNA expression alone, but not of mRNA expression for MT(2) or MT(3), was demonstrated in the tissues. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that melatonin reduces the functional inhibitory NANC response. It shows that this effect may be the result of a reduction of the nitrergic component of the smooth-muscle inhibitory junction potential (IJP) and related to direct inhibition of NOS activity in enteric synaptosomes. The presence of mt1 receptor transcripts adds supportive evidence for a possible physiological role of melatonin within the enteric nervous system.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Agents / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Atropine / pharmacology
  • Digestive System / enzymology
  • Digestive System / physiopathology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Enteric Nervous System / drug effects
  • Enteric Nervous System / metabolism*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Female
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Male
  • Melatonin / pharmacology*
  • Melatonin / physiology
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Metallothionein 3
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Muscarinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Muscle Relaxation / drug effects
  • Muscle, Smooth / drug effects
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / drug effects
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / genetics
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / drug effects
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / genetics
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism
  • Receptors, Melatonin
  • Rodentia
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Synaptosomes / drug effects
  • Synaptosomes / metabolism


  • Adrenergic Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Metallothionein 3
  • Mt3 protein, mouse
  • Muscarinic Antagonists
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Receptors, Melatonin
  • Atropine
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Melatonin