Placental melatonin production and melatonin receptor expression are altered in preeclampsia: new insights into the role of this hormone in pregnancy


Address reprint requests to Cathy Vaillancourt, PhD, INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier, 531 boul. des Prairies, Building 18, Laval, QC H7V 1B7, Canada.


Abstract:  The melatonin system in preeclamptic pregnancies has been largely overlooked, especially in the placenta. We have previously documented melatonin production and expression of its receptors in normal human placentas. In addition, we and others have shown a beneficial role of melatonin in placental and fetal functions. In line with this, decreased maternal blood levels of melatonin are found in preeclamptic compared with normotensive pregnancies. However, melatonin production and expression of its receptors in preeclamptic compared with normotensive pregnancy placentas has never been examined. This study compares (i) melatonin-synthesizing enzyme expression and activity, (ii) melatonin and serotonin, melatonin’s immediate precursor, levels and (iii) expression of MT1 and MT2 melatonin receptors in placentas from preeclamptic and normotensive pregnancies. Protein and mRNA expression of aralkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT) and hydroxyindole O-methyltransferase (HIOMT), the melatonin-synthesizing enzymes, as well as MT1 and MT2 receptors were determined by RT-qPCR and Western blot, respectively. The activities of melatonin-synthesizing enzymes were assessed by radiometric assays while melatonin levels were determined by LC-MS/MS. There is a significant inhibition of AANAT, melatonin’s rate-limiting enzyme, expression and activity in preeclamptic placentas, correlating with decreased melatonin levels. Likewise, MT1 and MT2 expression is significantly reduced in preeclamptic compared with normotensive pregnancy placentas. We propose that reduced maternal plasma melatonin levels may be an early diagnostic tool to identify pregnancies complicated by preeclampsia. This study indicates a clinical utility of melatonin as a potential treatment for preeclampsia in women where reduced maternal plasma levels have been identified.