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J Pineal Res. 2011 Nov;51(4):454-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-079X.2011.00909.x. Epub 2011 Jul 7.

Melatonin synthesized by T lymphocytes as a ligand of the retinoic acid-related orphan receptor.

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Instituto de Biomedicina de Sevilla, Hospital Universitario Virgen del Rocio/CSIC/Universidad de Sevilla, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Seville School of Medicine, Seville, Spain.


Melatonin modulates a wide array of physiological events with pleiotropic effects on the immune system. While the relevance of specific melatonin membrane receptors has been well established for several biological functions, retinoic acid-related orphan receptor alpha (RORα) has been suggested as a mediator of nuclear melatonin signalling by results obtained from pharmacological approaches. However, a melatonin-mediated downstream effect cannot be ruled out, and further evidence is needed to support a direct interaction between melatonin and RORα. Here, we show that RORα is mainly located in human Jurkat T-cell nucleus, and it is co-immunoprecipitated with melatonin. Moreover, immunocytochemistry studies confirmed the co-localization of melatonin and RORα. Melatonin promoted a time-dependent decrease in nuclear RORα levels, suggesting a role in the RORα transcriptional activity. Interestingly, RORα acts as a molecular switch implicated in the mutually exclusive generation of Th17 and Treg cells, both involved in the harm/protection balance of immune conditions such as autoimmunity or acute transplant rejection. Therefore, the identification of melatonin as a natural modulator of RORα gives it a tremendous therapeutic potential for a variety of clinical disorders.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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