Melatonin and Its Metabolites Can Serve as Agonists on the Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor and Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma

Andrzej T. Slominski, Tae Kang Kim, Radomir M. Slominski, Yuwei Song, Shariq Qayyum, Wojciech Placha, Zorica Janjetovic, Konrad Kleszczyński, Venkatram Atigadda, Yuhua Song, Chander Raman, Cornelis J. Elferink, Judith Varady Hobrath, Anton M. Jetten, Russel J. Reiter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Melatonin is widely present in Nature. It has pleiotropic activities, in part mediated by interactions with high-affinity G-protein-coupled melatonin type 1 and 2 (MT1 and MT2) receptors or under extreme conditions, e.g., ischemia/reperfusion. In pharmacological concentrations, it is given to counteract the massive damage caused by MT1- and MT2-independent mechanisms. The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) is a perfect candidate for mediating the latter effects because melatonin has structural similarity to its natural ligands, including tryptophan metabolites and indolic compounds. Using a cell-based Human AhR Reporter Assay System, we demonstrated that melatonin and its indolic and kynuric metabolites act as agonists on the AhR with EC50’s between 10−4 and 10−6 M. This was further validated via the stimulation of the transcriptional activation of the CYP1A1 promoter. Furthermore, melatonin and its metabolites stimulated AhR translocation from the cytoplasm to the nucleus in human keratinocytes, as demonstrated by ImageStream II cytometry and Western blot (WB) analyses of cytoplasmic and nuclear fractions of human keratinocytes. These functional analyses are supported by in silico analyses. We also investigated the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR)γ as a potential target for melatonin and metabolites bioregulation. The binding studies using a TR-TFRET kit to assay the interaction of the ligand with the ligand-binding domain (LBD) of the PPARγ showed agonistic activities of melatonin, 6-hydroxymelatonin and N-acetyl-N-formyl-5-methoxykynuramine with EC50’s in the 10−4 M range showing significantly lower affinities that those of rosiglitazone, e.g., a 10−8 M range. These interactions were substantiated by stimulation of the luciferase activity of the construct containing PPARE by melatonin and its metabolites at 10−4 M. As confirmed by the functional assays, binding mode predictions using a homology model of the AhR and a crystal structure of the PPARγ suggest that melatonin and its metabolites, including 6-hydroxymelatonin, 5-methoxytryptamine and N-acetyl-N-formyl-5-methoxykynuramine, are excellent candidates to act on the AhR and PPARγ with docking scores comparable to their corresponding natural ligands. Melatonin and its metabolites were modeled into the same ligand-binding pockets (LBDs) as their natural ligands. Thus, functional assays supported by molecular modeling have shown that melatonin and its indolic and kynuric metabolites can act as agonists on the AhR and they can interact with the PPARγ at high concentrations. This provides a mechanistic explanation for previously reported cytoprotective actions of melatonin and its metabolites that require high local concentrations of the ligands to reduce cellular damage under elevated oxidative stress conditions. It also identifies these compounds as therapeutic agents to be used at pharmacological doses in the prevention or therapy of skin diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number15496
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • AhR
  • PPARγ
  • melatonin
  • melatonin metabolites
  • modeling
  • receptors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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