Melatonin, energy metabolism, and obesity: a review



Melatonin is an old and ubiquitous molecule in nature showing multiple mechanisms of action and functions in practically every living organism. In mammals, pineal melatonin functions as a hormone and a chronobiotic, playing a major role in the regulation of the circadian temporal internal order. The anti-obesogen and the weight-reducing effects of melatonin depend on several mechanisms and actions. Experimental evidence demonstrates that melatonin is necessary for the proper synthesis, secretion, and action of insulin. Melatonin acts by regulating GLUT4 expression and/or triggering, via its G-protein-coupled membrane receptors, the phosphorylation of the insulin receptor and its intracellular substrates mobilizing the insulin-signaling pathway. Melatonin is a powerful chronobiotic being responsible, in part, by the daily distribution of metabolic processes so that the activity/feeding phase of the day is associated with high insulin sensitivity, and the rest/fasting is synchronized to the insulin-resistant metabolic phase of the day. Furthermore, melatonin is responsible for the establishment of an adequate energy balance mainly by regulating energy flow to and from the stores and directly regulating the energy expenditure through the activation of brown adipose tissue and participating in the browning process of white adipose tissue. The reduction in melatonin production, as during aging, shift-work or illuminated environments during the night, induces insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, sleep disturbance, and metabolic circadian disorganization characterizing a state of chronodisruption leading to obesity. The available evidence supports the suggestion that melatonin replacement therapy might contribute to restore a more healthy state of the organism.