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Keywords:

  • cancer;
  • hormone replacement therapy;
  • melatonin;
  • melatonin receptors;
  • osteoporosis

Abstract:  Melatonin's therapeutic potential is grossly underestimated because its functional roles are diverse and its mechanism(s) of action are complex and varied. Melatonin produces cellular effects via a variety of mechanisms in a receptor independent and dependent manner. In addition, melatonin is a chronobiotic agent secreted from the pineal gland during the hours of darkness. This diurnal release of melatonin impacts the sensitivity of melatonin receptors throughout a 24-hr period. This changing sensitivity probably contributes to the narrow therapeutic window for use of melatonin in treating sleep disorders, that is, at the light-to-dark (dusk) or dark-to-light (dawn) transition states. In addition to the cyclic changes in melatonin receptors, many genes cycle over the 24-hr period, independent or dependent upon the light/dark cycle. Interestingly, many of these genes support a role for melatonin in modulating metabolic and cardiovascular physiology as well as bone metabolism and immune function and detoxification of chemical agents and cancer reduction. Melatonin also enhances the actions of a variety of drugs or hormones; however, the role of melatonin receptors in modulating these processes is not known. The goal of this review is to summarize the evidence related to the utility of melatonin as a therapeutic agent by focusing on its other potential uses besides sleep disorders. In particular, its use in cancer prevention, osteoporosis and, as an adjuvant to other therapies are discussed. Also, the role that melatonin and, particularly, its receptors play in these processes are highlighted.