Blackwell Publishing Journal Backfiles 1879-2005
Abstract: As for many hormones, melatonin levels in the blood suggest that it is discharged from the pineal gland in a pulsatile manner. Recently, the existence of short-term episodes, superimposed on the circadian pattern of circulating melatonin, has been questioned. Because plasma melatonin levels reflect not only the secretory process, but also the effects of distribution and degradation, secretory rates were estimated from peripheral levels, using a deconvolution procedure. Fourteen healthy volunteers were studied during the night, while sleeping in the dark (2300–0700), and seven of them subsequently were used in a replicate study. Plasma melatonin levels were measured at 10-min intervals by a direct, specific radioimmunoassay. Pulse analysis was performed using the computer program ULTRA. Approximately 30% more pulses were detected on the overall secretory profiles than on plasma profiles. The pulses occurred at random intervals and were often superimposed on tonic basal secretion. Their number, amplitude, and distribution over time were variable depending on subjects. Also the mean melatonin secretory rate varied more than threefold across individuals. Despite the large interindividual variability, the subjects, who were used in replicate experiment, displayed a rather similar secretory profile. We conclude that in normal adult men, melatonin secretion undergoes two distinct secretory modes, in which episodic secretion is superimposed on tonic secretion in subject-dependent variable proportions.
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