Dr. Weeks’ Comment: Melatonin is not just a sleep aid it can also enhance immune function when people are threatened with infections.
Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2020 Aug 9;1-12.
The world faces an exceptional new public health concern caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), subsequently termed the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by the World Health Organization (WHO). Although the clinical symptoms mostly have been characterized, the scientific community still doesn´t know how SARS-CoV-2 successfully reaches and spreads throughout the central nervous system (CNS) inducing brain damage. The recent detection of SARS-CoV-2 in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and in frontal lobe sections from postmortem examination has confirmed the presence of the virus in neural tissue. This finding reveals a new direction in the search for a neurotherapeutic strategy in the COVID-19 patients with underlying diseases. Here, we discuss the COVID-19 outbreak in a neuroinvasiveness context and suggest the therapeutic use of high doses of melatonin, which may favorably modulate the immune response and neuroinflammation caused by SARS-CoV-2. However, clinical trials elucidating the efficacy of melatonin in the prevention and clinical management in the COVID-19 patients should be actively encouraged.
There is a growing appreciation that the regulation of the melatonergic pathways, both pineal and systemic, may be an important aspect in how viruses drive the cellular changes that underpin their control of cellular function. We review the melatonergic pathway role in viral infections, emphasizing influenza and covid-19 infections. Viral, or preexistent, suppression of pineal melatonin disinhibits neutrophil attraction, thereby contributing to an initial “cytokine storm”, as well as the regulation of other immune cells. Melatonin induces the circadian gene, Bmal1, which disinhibits the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC), countering viral inhibition of Bmal1/PDC. PDC drives mitochondrial conversion of pyruvate to acetyl-coenzyme A (acetyl-CoA), thereby increasing the tricarboxylic acid cycle, oxidative phosphorylation, and ATP production. Pineal melatonin suppression attenuates this, preventing the circadian “resetting” of mitochondrial metabolism. This is especially relevant in immune cells, where shifting metabolism from glycolytic to oxidative phosphorylation, switches cells from reactive to quiescent phenotypes. Acetyl-CoA is a necessary cosubstrate for arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase, providing an acetyl group to serotonin, and thereby initiating the melatonergic pathway. Consequently, pineal melatonin regulates mitochondrial melatonin and immune cell phenotype. Virus- and cytokine-storm-driven control of the pineal and mitochondrial melatonergic pathway therefore regulates immune responses. Virus-and cytokine storm-driven changes also increase gut permeability and dysbiosis, thereby suppressing levels of the short-chain fatty acid, butyrate, and increasing circulating lipopolysaccharide (LPS). The alterations in butyrate and LPS can promote viral replication and host symptom severity via impacts on the melatonergic pathway. Focussing on immune regulators has treatment implications for covid-19 and other viral infections.