The circadian rhythm of melatonin secretion from the pineal body is entrained to the light-dark cycle and is controlled via sympathetic fibres originating from the superior cervical ganglia. We have therefore examined plasma melatonin profiles in diabetics with and without evidence of autonomic neuropathy and in normal matched controls. The physiological increase in nocturnal plasma melatonin concentration was not observed in diabetics neuropaths. There was no consistent pattern in the diabetics without neuropathy; only three out of the eight subjects in this group had a sustained nocturnal increase in melatonin. Normal diurnal variation of plasma cortisol was present in all groups of subjects. The present study shows that diabetic patients with evidence of autonomic neuropathy lack the normal circadian changes of plasma melatonin concentration. This provides confirmation for the control of pineal function via the sympathetic nervous system in man. The impaired melatonin profiles observed in diabetic patients without apparent autonomic neuropathy suggest that a subclinical state of sympathetic denervation may exist in this group of diabetics.
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