G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are classically characterized as cell-surface receptors transmitting extracellular signals into cells. Here we show that central components of a GPCR signaling system comprised of the melatonin type 1 receptor (MT1), its associated G protein, and β-arrestins are on and within neuronal mitochondria. We discovered that the ligand melatonin is exclusively synthesized in the mitochondrial matrix and released by the organelle activating the mitochondrial MT1 signal-transduction pathway inhibiting stress-mediated cytochrome c release and caspase activation. These findings coupled with our observation that mitochondrial MT1 overexpression reduces ischemic brain injury in mice delineate a mitochondrial GPCR mechanism contributing to the neuroprotective action of melatonin. We propose a new term, "automitocrine," analogous to "autocrine" when a similar phenomenon occurs at the cellular level, to describe this unexpected intracellular organelle ligand-receptor pathway that opens a new research avenue investigating mitochondrial GPCR biology.
Keywords: G protein-coupled receptor; ischemia; melatonin; mitochondria; neuroprotection.