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Review
, 59 Suppl 2, 33-51

Thirty Four Years Since the Discovery of Gastrointestinal Melatonin

Affiliations
  • PMID: 18812627
Review

Thirty Four Years Since the Discovery of Gastrointestinal Melatonin

G A Bubenik. J Physiol Pharmacol.

Abstract

After the discovery of melatonin in the pineal gland by Lerner and co-workers in 1958, melatonin was also detected in the retina and the human appendix. Later, melatonin was confirmed immunohistologically in all segments of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT), in the guts of bovine embryos and in the GIT of low vertebrates. Melatonin was also confirmed in the pancreas and the hepatobiliary system. Melatonin is produced in the enteroendocrine cells of the GIT mucosa. The concentrations of melatonin in the GIT are 10-100x higher than in the plasma and the total amount of melatonin in the GIT is around 400x higher than the amount of melatonin in the pineal gland. Similar to pineal melatonin, GIT melatonin is a multifunctional compound which exhibits some general as well as some specific effects, depending on the organ and the location of GIT tissue. In the GIT, melatonin exhibits endocrine, paracrine, autocrine and luminal actions. Generally, the episodic secretion of melatonin from the GIT is related to the intake and digestion of food and to the prevention of tissue damage caused by hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. Some actions, such as the scavenging of hydroxyl free radicals, immunoenhancement and antioxidant effects are of general nature, whereas others, such as an increase of mucosal blood flow, the reduction of peristalsis and the regulation of fecal water content, are specific to the tubular GIT. Generally, melatonin actions oppose those of serotonin. Laboratory and clinical studies indicate that the utilization of melatonin can prevent or treat pathological conditions such as esophageal and gastric ulcers, pancreatitis, colitis, irritable bowel disease, and colon cancer.

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