Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Pineal gland


The pineal and parapineal organs are dorsal outpocketings of the vertebrate diencephalon that play key roles in orientation and in circadian and annual cycles. Lampreys are four eyed in that both the pineal and parapineal form eyelike photosensory structures, but the pineal is the dominant or sole median photosensory structure in most lower vertebrate clades. The pineal complex has been thought to evolve in a single direction by losing photosensory and augmenting secretory function in the transitions from three-eyed lower vertebrates to two-eyed mammals and archosaurs [1-3]. Yet the widely accepted elaboration of the parapineal instead of the pineal as the primary median photosensory organ [4] in Lepidosauria (lizards, snakes, and tuataras) hints at a more complex evolutionary history. Here we present evidence that a fourth eye re-evolved from the pineal organ at least once within vertebrates, specifically in an extinct monitor lizard, Saniwa ensidens, in which pineal and parapineal eyes were present simultaneously. The tandem midline location of these structures confirms in a striking fashion the proposed homology of the parietal eye with the parapineal organ and refutes the classical model of pineal bilaterality. It furthermore raises questions about the evolution and functional interpretation of the median photosensory organ in other tetrapod clades.

Concepts: Evolution, Bird, Reptile, Pineal gland, Vertebrate, Tetrapod, Parietal eye, Tuatara


The role of the pineal gland is to translate the rhythmic cycles of night and day encoded by the retina into hormonal signals that are transmitted to the rest of the neuronal system in the form of serotonin and melatonin synthesis and release. Here we describe that the production of both melatonin and serotonin by the pineal gland is regulated by a circadian-related heteromerization of adrenergic and dopamine D₄ receptors. Through α(₁B)-D₄ and β₁-D₄ receptor heteromers dopamine inhibits adrenergic receptor signaling and blocks the synthesis of melatonin induced by adrenergic receptor ligands. This inhibition was not observed at hours of the day when D₄ was not expressed. These data provide a new perspective on dopamine function and constitute the first example of a circadian-controlled receptor heteromer. The unanticipated heteromerization between adrenergic and dopamine D₄ receptors provides a feedback mechanism for the neuronal hormone system in the form of dopamine to control circadian inputs.

Concepts: Hormone, Endocrinology, Receptor, Cell signaling, Pineal gland, Serotonin, Tryptophan, Melatonin


Human pre-ovulatory follicular fluid (FF) contains a higher concentration of melatonin than serum. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of melatonin supplementation of culture medium on the clinical outcomes of an in-vitro maturation (IVM) IVF-embryo transfer programme for patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Melatonin concentrations in the culture media of granulosa cells (GC) or cumulus-oocyte-complexes (COC) were measured and the clinical outcomes after using IVM media with or without melatonin were analysed. In the culture media of GC or COC, melatonin concentrations gradually increased. When human chorionic gonadotrophin priming protocols were used, implantation rates in the melatonin-supplemented group were higher than those of the non-supplemented control group (P<0.05). Pregnancy rates were also higher, although not significantly. The findings suggest that the addition of melatonin to IVM media may improve the cytoplasmic maturation of human immature oocytes and subsequent clinical outcomes. It is speculated that follicular melatonin may be released from luteinizing GC during late folliculogenesis and that melatonin supplementation may be used to improve the clinical outcomes of IVM IVF-embryo transfer. Melatonin is primarily produced by the pineal gland and regulates a variety of important central and peripheral actions related to circadian rhythms and reproduction. Interestingly, human pre-ovulatory follicular fluid contains a higher concentration of melatonin than serum. However, in contrast to animal studies, the direct role of melatonin on oocyte maturation in the human system has not yet been investigated. So, the aim of the study was to evaluate the effect of melatonin supplementation of culture medium on the clinical outcome of an in-vitro maturation (IVM) IVF-embryo transfer programme for PCOS patients. The melatonin concentrations in culture medium of granulosa cells (GC) or cumulus-oocyte-complexes (COC) were measured and the clinical outcomes of IVM IVF-embryo transfer using IVM medium alone or supplemented with melatonin were analysed. In the culture media of GC or COC, the melatonin concentration gradually increased. With human chorionic gonadotrophin priming, the pregnancy and implantation rates in the melatonin-supplemented group were higher than those of the non-supplemented control (P<0.05). Our findings suggest that follicular melatonin is released from luteinizing GC during late folliculogenesis and plays a positive role in oocyte maturation. Therefore, addition of melatonin into IVM medium may improve cytoplasmic maturation of human immature oocytes and subsequent clinical outcomes.

Concepts: Luteinizing hormone, Pineal gland, Human chorionic gonadotropin, Circadian rhythm, Ovulation, Polycystic ovary syndrome, Folliculogenesis, Melatonin


: Melatonin is synthesized in the pineal gland and is an important circadian phase marker, especially in the determination of sleep patterns. Both temporary and permanent abnormal sleep patterns occur in children; therefore, it is desirable to have methods for monitoring melatonin in biological fluids in the diagnosis and treatment of such disorders.

Concepts: Sleep, Sleep disorder, Pineal gland, Circadian rhythm, Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, Glands, Chronotype, Melatonin


The pineal gland is a unique organ that synthesizes melatonin as the signaling molecule of natural photoperiodic environment and as a potent neuronal protective antioxidant. An intact and functional pineal gland is necessary for preserving optimal human health. Unfortunately, this gland has the highest calcification rate among all organs and tissues of the human body. Pineal calcification jeopardizes melatonin’s synthetic capacity and is associated with a variety of neuronal diseases. In the current review, we summarized the potential mechanisms of how this process may occur under pathological conditions or during aging. We hypothesized that pineal calcification is an active process and resembles in some respects of bone formation. The mesenchymal stem cells and melatonin participate in this process. Finally, we suggest that preservation of pineal health can be achieved by retarding its premature calcification or even rejuvenating the calcified gland.

Concepts: Stem cell, Mesenchymal stem cell, Bone marrow, Pineal gland, Circadian rhythm, Endocrine system, Calcification, Melatonin


The present study was aimed to identify how age-related changes in some physiological and biochemical systems are related to changes in the life span of rats with long-term pineal gland hypo- and hyperfunction induced by constant light and constant darkness, respectively. At the age of 25 days the rats were randomly divided into 3 groups: standard light/dark regimen (LD), constant light (LL) and constant darkness (DD). Age-related antioxidant system (AOS) changes in liver tissues, alteration of immunoreactivity in blood smears were investigated, pubescence and lifespan of the animals were determined. Modification of the level of melatonin synthesis induced by constant light results in interrelated rearrangements in the functioning of the investigated physiological systems. Elevated activity of the antioxidant system extends the lifespan, while at the same time slowing down pubescence and altering the morpho-functional properties of leukocytes in blood. Many of the effects produced by constant light and constant darkness coincided. The absence of light/dark alternation affects only those physiological indices that follow the organism’s circadian rhythms (activity of antioxidant enzymes (AOE), levels of individual immune system cell types), whereas changes in the parameters not governed by circadian fluctuations (vitamin concentrations, pubescence, and aging) depend on the level of melatonin produced by the pineal gland.

Concepts: Immune system, Antioxidant, Pineal gland, Circadian rhythm, Circadian rhythms, Delayed sleep phase syndrome, Circadian rhythm sleep disorder, Melatonin


Bipolar disorder (BD) is a long-recognized severe and common psychiatric disorder, with a complex and often diverse range of presentations. BD is a heterogenous disorder that has traditionally, if rather simply, been defined by the recurrences of manic and depressive episodes, and presents with numerous immune-inflammatory and circadian/sleep abnormalities. A number of different lines of research have investigated the biological underpinnings of BD and demonstrate an heritability about 80-90%. This genetic contribution is thought to be mediated by a wide array of genetic factors, rather than being strongly influenced by a couple of genes. In this context, a clearer formulation of the biological underpinnings of BD is needed in order to encompass the diverse effects of multiple susceptibility genes. The biological underpinnings of BD includes work that has focussed on the role played by increased immune inflammatory activity, particularly changes in pro-inflammatory cytokines, as measured both centrally and systemically. Changes in immune-inflammatory activity are intimately associated with alterations in levels of oxidative and nitrosative stress (O&NS), which are increased in BD. Many of the neuroregulatory changes driven by O&NS and immune-inflammatory activity are mediated by the tryptophan catabolite (TRYCAT) pathways, with changes in TRYCATs being evident both centrally and peripherally. A consequence of increased pro-inflammatory cytokines, is their induction of indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO), which takes tryptophan away from serotonin, N-acetylserotonin and melatonin synthesis, driving it to the synthesis of neuroregulatory TRYCAT. Most work exploring such changes has emphasized the role of TRYCATs in enhancing or decreasing neuronal activity. However, a relatively overlooked consequence of cytokine induced IDO and TRYCAT pathway activation is the impact that this has on aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) activation and in decreasing melatonergic pathway activity. Melatonin is classically associated with night-time synthesis by the pineal gland, in turn regulating circadian rhythms. However, melatonin is produced by many, if not all mitochondria containing cells, with consequences for gut regulation, as well as glia and immune cell reactivity. The melatonergic pathways are genetic susceptibility factors for BD. Interactive changes in O&NS, immune-inflammatory activity, TRYCATs and the melatonergic pathways form an emerging biological perspective on the etiology, course and management of BD. Here, we review such changes in BD, and how this better integrates the diverse array of BD presentations and comorbidities, including addiction and cardiovascular disorders as well as decreased life-expectancy. We then look at the future directions such research may take.

Concepts: Genetics, Pineal gland, Mental disorder, Bipolar disorder, Circadian rhythm, Circadian rhythms, Circadian rhythm sleep disorder, Melatonin


Endogenous circadian rhythms are thought to modulate responses to external factors, but mechanisms that confer time-of-day differences in organismal responses to environmental insults/therapeutic treatments are poorly understood. Using a xenobiotic, we find that permeability of the Drosophila “blood”-brain barrier (BBB) is higher at night. The permeability rhythm is driven by circadian regulation of efflux and depends on a molecular clock in the perineurial glia of the BBB, although efflux transporters are restricted to subperineurial glia (SPG). We show that transmission of circadian signals across the layers requires cyclically expressed gap junctions. Specifically, during nighttime, gap junctions reduce intracellular magnesium ([Mg2+]i), a positive regulator of efflux, in SPG. Consistent with lower nighttime efflux, nighttime administration of the anti-epileptic phenytoin is more effective at treating a Drosophila seizure model. These findings identify a novel mechanism of circadian regulation and have therapeutic implications for drugs targeted to the central nervous system.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Neuron, Hypothalamus, Brain, Pineal gland, Circadian rhythm, Melatonin


Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland during the night in response to light/dark information received by the retina and its integration by the suprachiasmatic nucleus. When administered to selected populations of adults, in particular those displaying delayed sleep phase disorder, melatonin may advance the time of sleep onset. It is, however, being increasingly prescribed for children with sleep disorders despite the fact that (i) it is not registered for use in children anywhere in the world; (ii) it has not undergone the formal safety testing expected for a new drug, especially long-term safety in children; (iii) it is known to have profound effects on the reproductive systems of rodents, sheep and primates, as well as effects on the cardiovascular, immune and metabolic systems; and (iv) there is the potential for important interactions with drugs sometimes prescribed for children. In this review, I discuss properties of melatonin outside its ability to alter sleep timing that have been widely ignored but which raise questions about the safety of its use in infants and adolescents.

Concepts: Pineal gland, Circadian rhythm, Suprachiasmatic nucleus, Circadian rhythms, Delayed sleep phase syndrome, Circadian rhythm sleep disorder, Melatonin, Sleep physiology


Introduction: Previous studies have shown that melatonin, an antioxidant molecule secreted from the pineal gland, is a positive regulator of bone mass. However, melatonin potential effects on bone mass have never been investigated in old population yet. The aim of this study was to assess the effects of dietary melatonin supplementation on mass accrual and biomechanical properties of old rat femora. Methods: Twenty 22-months-old male Wistar rats were divided into 2 randomly assigned groups. The first group was treated for 10 weeks with melatonin, whereas the second group left untreated (control). Rat femurs were collected, and their phenotypes and biomechanical properties were investigated by micro-computed tomography, histomorphometry and 3-point-bending test. Statistical analyses were performed by Student’s two-tailed unpaired t-test. In all experiments, a value of p < 0.05 was considered significant. Results: Rats treated with melatonin had higher bone volume, bone trabecular number, trabecular thickness and cortical thickness in comparison to control group. Histomorphometric analyses confirmed the increase of bone volume in melatonin-treated rats. In agreement with these findings, melatonin-treated rats demonstrated with higher bone stiffness, flexural modulus and ultimate load compared to controls. Conclusion: These compelling results are the first evidence indicating that dietary melatonin supplementation is able to exert beneficial effects against age-related bone loss in old rats; improving the microstructure and biomechanical properties of aged bones.

Concepts: Osteoporosis, Bone, Statistics, Dietary supplement, Femur, Pineal gland, Endocrine system, Melatonin