Author(s): Maestroni GJ
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Abstract A tight, physiological link between the pineal gland and the immune system is emerging from a series of experimental studies. This link might reflect the evolutionary connection between self-recognition and reproduction. Pinealectomy or other experimental methods which inhibit melatonin synthesis and secretion induce a state of immunodepression which is counteracted by melatonin. In general, melatonin seems to have an immunoenhancing effect that is particularly apparent in immunodepressive states. The negative effect of acute stress or immunosuppressive pharmacological treatments on various immune parameters are counteracted by melatonin. It seems important to note that one of the main targets of melatonin is the thymus, i.e., the central organ of the immune system. The clinical use of melatonin as an immunotherapeutic agent seems promising in primary and secondary immunodeficiencies as well as in cancer immunotherapy. The immunoenhancing action of melatonin seems to be mediated by T-helper cell-derived opioid peptides as well as by lymphokines and, perhaps, by pituitary hormones. Melatonin-induced-immuno-opioids (MIIO) and lymphokines imply the presence of specific binding sites or melatonin receptors on cells of the immune system. On the other hand, lymphokines such as gamma-interferon and interleukin-2 as well as thymic hormones can modulate the synthesis of melatonin in the pineal gland. The pineal gland might thus be viewed as the crux of a sophisticated immunoneuroendocrine network which functions as an unconscious, diffuse sensory organ.
This article was published in J Pineal Res
and referenced in Endocrinology & Metabolic Syndrome