Regulation of Circadian Rhythms of Indoleamines in the Pineal Gland

  • Julius Axelrod
Part of the NATO Advanced Science Institutes Series book series (NSSA, volume 65)


Although the pineal gland has been recognized for many centuries it was the discovery of melatonin that opened the modern era of research in this organ. McCord and Allen had observed in 1927 that an extract of the bovine pineal can blanch the skin of tadpoles. This prompted Lerner, a dermatologist and biochemist interested in pigmenation, to isolate the active blanching factor of the pineal (Lerner et al., 1978). The active blanching principle of the pineal organ was isolated and identified as 5-methoxy-N-acetyltryamine (which was named melatonin). Because of my interest in both indoles and transmethylation reaction, I initiated studies on the biosynthesis and regulation of melatonin metabolism in the pineal. Together with Wurtman we found that the pineal gland can act as a neuroendocrine transducer converting neuronal signals, which are controlled by environmental lighting, into endocrine messages. This led to the formulation of the “melatonin hypothesis” in which we proposed that the pineal gland is influenced by light-dark cycles to regulate the synthesis of melatonin, a compound that acts at distant target organs (Wurtman and Axelrod, 1965). Further work in our laboratory led to the exploration of this gland to study circadian rhythms and the beta-adrenergic receptors.


Circadian Rhythm Sympathetic Nerve Pineal Gland Superior Cervical Ganglion Suprachiasmatic Nucleus 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julius Axelrod
    • 1
  1. 1.Section on PharmacologyLaboratory of Clinical Science National Institute of Mental HealthBethesdaUSA

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