Our research group has previously studied the role of melatonin in the immune system of birds and mice, finding that incubation with both pharmacological and physiological doses of melatonin augmented the activity of phagocytes from these animals, and that this activity was lowered in pinealectomized animals. Since melatonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan, the aim of the present work was to determine whether the administration of tryptophan might affect the plasma levels of melatonin and the phagocytic activity of peritoneal macrophages over the course of a circadian cycle. The study animals were 14-week-old male Wistar rats. They were administered tryptophan orally in a daily single dose of 125 mg/kg at 19:00 h for 21 days. Prior to beginning this treatment, the circadian rhythms of plasma melatonin and phagocytic activity were evaluated under basal conditions over a 24-h period, taking blood and cell suspension samples each 2 hours during the light period (08:00–20:00) and each hour during the dark period (20:00–08:00), since it is during this latter period that the secretion of melatonin is maximum. The results showed that, under basal conditions, the rats’ plasma melatonin levels and phagocytic activity peaked at 02:00. After the tryptophan administration, there were increases in plasma melatonin levels with respect to basal and control-group values, with a peak at 21:00, and in the phagocytic activity of the peritoneal macrophages, which peaked at 02:00. This suggests that the tryptophan administration stimulated melatonin synthesis, leading to increased and earlier peaking plasma levels of this hormone, and augmented the innate immune response carried out by the peritoneal macrophages as a result of the immunoregulatory action of melatonin.
tryptophan; melatonin; immune system; circadian rhythms; rats
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