Melatonin was detected by an improved immunocytochemical technique in the cell nuclei of most tissues studied including several brain areas, pineal gland, Harderian gland, gut, liver, kidney, and spleen from rodents and primates. Cryostat sections from tissues fixed in Bouin's fluid, formalin, or acetone/ethanol were used. The nuclear staining appeared primarily associated with the chromatin. The nucleoli did not exhibit a positive reaction. The melatonin antiserum was used in the range of 1:500 to 1:5,000. Incubation of the antibody with an excess of melatonin resulted in the complete blockade of nuclear staining. Pretreatment of the sections with proteinase K (200–1,000 ng/ml) prevented the positive immunoreaction. In a second aspect of the study, we estimated the concentration of melatonin by means of radioimmunoassay in the nuclear fraction of several tissues including cerebral cortex, liver, and gut. The subcutaneous injection of melatonin (500 μg/kg) to rats resulted, after 30 min, in a rapid increase in the nuclear concentration of immunoreactive melatonin which varied in a tissue-dependent manner. However, samples collected 3 h after the injection showed that melatonin levels had decreased to control values. Pinealectomy in rats resulted in a clear reduction in the nuclear content of melatonin in the cerebral cortex and liver but not in the gut. The results of these studies suggest that melatonin may interact with nuclear proteins and that the indole may have an important function at the nuclear level in a variety of mammalian tissues.
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