Melatonin was detected in the circulation of the near-term rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatto) and baboon (Papio papio) fetus. We determined whether the source could be the mother by studying placental transfer of melatonin in the rhesus monkey. When [3H]melatonin was administered i.v. to the mother it promptly appeared in the fetal circulation; the rates of disappearance of [3H]melatonin in the maternal and fetal circulations were parallel. The rapid decrease in circulating [3H]melatonin was associated with a rapid accumulation of [3H]melatonin-metabolites in the maternal and fetal circulations. Although the pattern of appearance of metabolites was similar in both circulations, relatively less [3H]melatonin-metabolites appeared in the fetal circulation.Summary
Acute changes in total maternal plasma melatonin, experimentally produced by giving a 20 min infusion of melatonin, were rapidly reflected in the fetus. This suggests that a daily rhythm in maternal melatonin would generate a similar rhythm in the fetus.Summary
The fetal monkey pineal was found to have the two enzymes necessary for the conversion of serotonin to melatonin. It is, however, not known whether fetal melatonin synthesis is rhythmic or the extent to which it could contribute to circulating melatonin levels at this or earlier stages of gestation.Speculation
Prompt placental transfer of melatonin could result in a maternally generated dally melatonin rhythm in the fetus. This communication may introduce the developing fetus to a 24-hr chemical periodicity and coordinate certain fetal functions with the prevailing environmental lighting cycles.