Neuroendocrinology of melatonin in reproduction: recent developments

J Chem Neuroanat. 1998 Jun;14(3-4):157-66. doi: 10.1016/s0891-0618(98)00029-5.


The circadian melatonin rhythm with high levels in the dark period is important for the synchronization of reproductive response to appropriate environmental conditions in animals. The target sites of melatonin action on reproductive functions remain to be clarified. Using autoradiography (ARG) and radioreceptor binding assays with 2[125I]iodomelatonin, a melatonin agonist, as the radioligand, studies on the sites of melatonin action have increased significantly in the last ten years. The recent cloning of melatonin receptor subtypes also allowed the characterization of receptor(s) to the molecular level. Earlier reports have documented that the hypothalamic-pituitary axis plays a vital role in the regulation of reproduction by melatonin. This is supported in part by the demonstration of melatonin receptors in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) in the brain and pars tuberalis (PT) in the pituitary. However, the nature of SCN and PT involvement in the reproductive action of melatonin remains unknown. In addition to the hypothalamus and pituitary, the two classical sites of melatonin action, other targets have been identified. The recent demonstration of 2[125I]iodomelatonin binding sites or melatonin receptors in the testis, epididymis, vas deferens, prostate, ovary and mammary gland suggest the concept of multiple sites of melatonin action on the reproductive system. The presence of melatonin receptors in the said tissues is consistent with earlier reports of direct melatonin actions on different levels of the reproductive system. This multiple levels of melatonin action, from the hypothalamus, pituitary, gonads to other reproductive tissues form a robust system of photoperiodic control in animal reproduction. This would guarantee successful gestation and delivery of the offspring at a time with optimum food availability and ultimately favourable for the survival of species. Molecular and cellular studies of melatonin signaling system(s), its regulation and effects on downstream functional events in the future may provide new insights and directions for the study of the physiology and pharmacology of fertility and contraception in animals and humans.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melatonin / physiology*
  • Neuroendocrinology*
  • Reproduction / physiology*


  • Melatonin