In this paper we review the historical milestones that first highlighted the existence of a relationship between melatonin and the immune system and we summarize data from experiments which correlate the rhythmic production of melatonin with the rhythmic activity of the immune system.
The effects of pinealectomy and in vivo administration of melatonin on a variety of immune parameters, including specific and non-specific immunity are considered and we also present contradictory data concerning the effect of melatonin in cultured immunocompetent cells and a possible scheme of how melatonin regulates the production of a number of cytokines. Finally, the mechanism of action of melatonin in the immune system is discussed. Many data suggest the existence of both nuclear and membrane receptors for melatonin in the immune system. Both of these appear to be clearly identified but their specific physiological role is still under discussion.
In summary, although there is overwhelming information demonstrating the immunoenhancing properties of melatonin, many questions related to the cytokines involved and the mechanisms of action of the indoleamine require answers.