Melatonin: the best antidote for inflammatory diseases

Experts at the University of Granada (Spain) are investigating all the possibilities which this molecule has to offer the pharmaceutical industry

Melatonin is a molecule which is secreted naturally and provides our systems with innumerable benefits (regulating sleep rhythms, stimulating our immune system, reducing oxidative stress, and more). When synthesized chemically, this substance has a great deal to offer the pharmaceutical industry. The Intercellular Communication group at the University of Granada has spent many years researching medical applications for this compound. One of their most important projects aims to use this hormone to reduce the effects of inflammatory diseases.
Sepsis, for example, is a condition known in medical circles as a systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) which causes serious infection and, at its most advanced, can lead to multiple organ failure and death. Melatonin can become the solution for fighting the inflammation which characterises this condition, as Andalucía Innova can tell us.
The leaders of this study, Dario Acuña Castroviejo and Germaine Escames, began the first clinical trials in the Virgen de las Nieves hospital, Granada. The scientists are also working with researchers from the Faculty of Pharmacy in the development of drugs which have been designed via a system of chemical synthesis and which have the same properties as melatonin.

Nitric oxide

A typical feature of sepsis is an elevated production of nitric oxide by the body. Thus melatonin acts to control this dysfunction, as well as to inhibit the expression of the gene that triggers this excess production. “It is a form of protection from general infections, however at the same time, the excessive production of this substance serves to aggravate the inflammation, as the oxide can dilate the blood vessels to such an extent as to cause the death of the patient”, explains Acuña.
The leaders of this study also add that melatonin acts on the mitochondrion, i.e. the energy unit in the body’s cells, which moreover is at the root of the excess production of nitric oxide, which prevents it from generating the energy necessary for the cell to be able to defend itself.
These properties make melatonin the only substance capable of having the same confirmed effect on the mitochondrion, as well as other parts of the cell. This ability has stimulated the interest of the pharmaceutical industry.
Once its effectiveness and lack of side effects have been confirmed, the researchers plan to apply it to humans. In the pharmaceutical unit of the Virgen de las Nieves hospital, the first preparations are already being produced for endovenous administration to patients affected by sepsis as a complement to their normal treatment. As the project director explains, the objective is to reduce mortality among those suffering from this disease.
As well as its action against sepsis, melatonin’s properties suggest that it may also find effective applications with other conditions, provided of course that their pathophysiology is related to oxidative damage with inflammation. To that end, Acuña and Escames’s group at the Biomedical research centre laboratory at the University of Granada also uses this substance to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s and even as a preventive intervention for conditions associated with aging.
Melatonin, which was approved by the European Medicines Agency in 2007 as a drug for optional prescription, is already being administered as a cure for insomnia. It has a positive action on all tissues, from the brain to the peripheral organs, as the researchers have demonstrated on laboratory mice. This research project has been rated excellent by the Conserjería de Innovación y Ciencia and has received over 360,000 euros in funding.


1 It is a substance which is secreted by the pineal gland and regulates our sleep cycles.
2 It is a natural substance with antioxidant properties for the body.
3 It has a positive effect on the reproductive, cardiovascular and nervous systems.
4 It also has a stimulating action on the immune system.
5 All these benefits have made melatonin a potent weapon against neurodegenerative diseases.

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