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Melatonin, the pineal gland and human puberty


Animal experiments have suggested that the pineal gland produces an anti-gonadotropic hormone. The hamster, for example, undergoes reproductive collapse when kept in short-day periods, an effect which is abolished by pinealectomy1. Although there is little direct evidence about the endocrine role of the pineal gland in man, it has been noted that tumours of the pineal gland in young boys are associated with precocious puberty and the human pineal gland has been suggested to produce a substance that holds sexual maturation in check2. This observation has been extended by Kitay3, who has shown that destructive tumours are associated with precocious puberty whereas hyperactive tumours are associated with delayed puberty. However, no studies have described any change of pineal function with normal puberty. Because two pineal indoles, melatonin4 and methoxytryptophol5, have been shown to be antigonadotropic when administered to animals6–10, we have now measured them in schoolchildren. Our findings show that in young boys there is an abrupt fall in the concentration of melatonin with advancing development suggesting that it may play an important physiological role in the control of human puberty.

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Silman., R., Leone, R., Hooper, R. et al. Melatonin, the pineal gland and human puberty. Nature 282, 301–303 (1979).

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