Melatonin and the hair follicle
J Pineal Res. 2008 Jan;44(1):1-15
Melatonin, the chief secretory product of the pineal gland, has long been known to modulate hair growth, pigmentation and/or molting in many species, presumably as a key neuroendocrine regulator that couples coat phenotype and function to photoperiod-dependent environmental and reproductive changes.
However, the detailed effects and mechanisms of this surprisingly pleiotropic indole on the hair follicle (HF) regarding growth control and pigmentation have not yet been completely understood. While unspecific melatonin binding sites have long been identified (e.g., in goat and mouse HFs), specific melatonin membrane MT2 receptor transcripts and both protein and mRNA expression for a specific nuclear melatonin binding site [retinoid-related orphan receptor alpha (RORalpha)] have only recently been identified in murine HFs. MT1, known to be expressed in human skin cells, is not transcribed in mouse skin.
After initial enzymologic data from hamster skin related to potential intracutaneous melatonin synthesis, it has recently been demonstrated that murine and human skin, namely human scalp HFs in anagen, are important sites of extrapineal melatonin synthesis. Moreover, HF melatonin production is enhanced by catecholamines (as it classically occurs in the pineal gland).
Melatonin may also functionally play a role in hair-cycle control, as it down-regulates both apoptosis and estrogen receptor-alpha expression, and modulates MT2 and RORalpha expression in murine skin in a hair-cycle-dependent manner.
Because of melatonin’s additional potency as a free radical scavenger and DNA repair inducer, the metabolically and proliferatively highly active anagen hair bulb may also exploit melatonin synthesis in loco as a self-cytoprotective strategy.