A review of the multiple actions of melatonin on the immune system

Endocrine. 2005 Jul;27(2):189-200. doi: 10.1385/ENDO:27:2:189.


This review summarizes the numerous observations published in recent years which have shown that one of the most significant of melatonin's pleiotropic effects is the regulation of the immune system. The overview summarizes the immune effects of pinealectomy and the association between rhythmic melatonin production and adjustments in the immune system as markers of melatonin's immunomodulatory actions. The effects of both in vivo and in vitromelatonin administration on non-specific, humoral, and cellular immune responses as well as on cellular proliferation and immune mediator production are presented. One of the main features that distinguishes melatonin from the classical hormones is its synthesis by a number of non-endocrine extrapineal organs, including the immune system. Herein, we summarize the presence of immune system-synthesized melatonin, its direct immunomodulatory effects on cytokine production, and its masking effects on exogenous melatonin action. The mechanisms of action of melatonin in the immune system are also discussed, focusing attention on the presence of membrane and nuclear receptors and the characterization of several physiological roles mediated by some receptor analogs in immune cells. The review focuses on melatonin's actions in several immune pathologies including infection, inflammation, and autoimmunity together with the relation between melatonin, immunity, and cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects
  • Immune System / metabolism
  • Immune System / physiology*
  • Immune System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Immunologic Factors / physiology
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Melatonin / pharmacology
  • Melatonin / physiology*
  • Paracrine Communication / drug effects
  • Pineal Gland / metabolism
  • Receptors, Melatonin / metabolism


  • Immunologic Factors
  • Receptors, Melatonin
  • Melatonin