Circulating Melatonin Levels: Possible Link Between Parkinson's Disease and Cancer Risk?

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Lower rates of cancer mortality/incidence in patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) have given rise to speculations about risk or preventative factors common to both diseases, including life-style factors (such as smoking) and genetic susceptibility. Melatonin, a hormone known for its sleep regulatory effects, may play an important role in carcinogenesis as suggested by substantial laboratory and less direct epidemiologic evidence. Particularly, a reduction in melatonin, such as experienced by persons who are exposed to light at night, appears to increase cancer risk. Variations in melatonin levels have been linked to PD in several different ways. Some studies show higher morning melatonin levels in PD patients than in healthy controls. One could speculate that the sleep disorders that affect almost two thirds of those suffering from PD and can precede PD motor symptoms by several years may be associated with variations in melatonin levels. Moreover, in animal models, interventions that increase the bioavailability of melatonin appears to increase the severity of parkinsonian symptoms, whereas reduction in melatonin by pinealectomy or exposure to bright light can enhance recovery from parkinsonisms symptoms. Finally, preliminary epidemiological evidence suggests that longer years of working night shifts is associated with a reduced risk of PD among participants of the Nurses' Health Study (NHS), whereas longer hours of sleep appear to increase their risk. In sum, while lower melatonin concentrations may predict a higher cancer risk, there is also some evidence that they may be associated with a lower risk of PD. We therefore hypothesize that elevated circulating melatonin levels in PD patients may contribute to their lower cancer rates.

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