It was a surprising discovery when mitochondria, as the power houses of cells, were also found to synthesize the potent mitochondrial targeted antioxidant, melatonin. The melatonin synthetic enzyme serotonin N-acetyltransferase (SNAT) was found in matrix and also in the intermembrane space of mitochondria.
We hypothesize that the melatonin synthesis occurs in the matrix due to substrate (N-acetyl co-enzyme A) availability while the intermembrane space may serve as the recycling pool of SNAT to regulate the melatonin circadian rhythm. Another surprise was that the melatonin membrane receptors, including MT1 and MT2, were also present in mitochondria. The protective effects of melatonin against neuronal injury induced by brain ischemia/reperfusion were proven to be mainly mediated by mitochondrial melatonin receptors rather than the cell surface membrane receptors which is contrary to the classical principle. In addition, melatonin metabolic enzyme has also been identified in the mitochondria. This enzyme can convert melatonin to N-acetylserotonin to strengthen the antitumor effects of melatonin.
Thus, mitochondria are the generator, battle ground and metabolic sites of melatonin. The biological significance of the strong association between mitochondria and melatonin should be intensively investigated.