A study of light/dark rhythm of melatonin in relation to cortisol and prolactin secretion in schizophrenia.

OBJECTIVES: Recent studies have suggested the involvement of the pineal gland and its main hormone melatonin (MLT) in the pathogenesis of psychiatric disturbances, namely the depressive syndrome. In contrast, the behavior of MLT secretion in schizophrenia is still controversial.

MATERIAL & METHODS: The present study was carried out to analyze light/dark rhythm of MLT secretion in relation to that of cortisol and prolactin (PRL) in schizophrenic patients. The study included 13 schizophrenic patients, 8 of whom were untreated, while the other 5 patients were on neuroleptic therapy. Serum levels of MLT, PRL and cortisol were measured by RIA on venous blood samples collected at 8 A.M., 12 A.M., 8 P.M. and 1 A.M. The control group consisted of 20 age-matched healthy subjects.

RESULTS: A physiological nocturnal increase in MLT levels occurred in 6/13 patients, whereas the other 7 patients showed an abnormally low MLT peak during the night. Moreover, both light and night mean levels of MLT were significantly lower in patients than in controls. In addition, mean nocturnal levels of MLT were significantly lower in chronic patients than in those evaluated at the onset of disease. Cortisol rhythm was normal in 11/13 patients, whereas PRL levels were abnormally high in 10/13 patients.

CONCLUSIONS: This preliminary study would suggest that schizophrenia may be associated with a diminished secretion of MLT from the pineal gland, and pineal deficiency would be more evident in the chronic disease. Finally, pineal alterations have appeared to be associated with an altered secretion of PRL and cortisol, by suggesting that the schizophrenic disease may be characterized by marked neuroendocrine disturbances, whose physio-pathological and prognostic significance needs to be established by successive clinical investigations.

 Full text PDF