Sleep well. Untangling the role of melatonin MT1 and MT2 receptors in sleep

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The pharmacological potential of targeting selectively melatonin MT1 or MT2 receptors has not yet been exploited in medicine. Research using selective MT1/MT2 receptor ligands and MT1/MT2 receptor knockout mice has indicated that the activation of MT2 receptors selectively increases non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep whereas MT1 receptors seem mostly implicated in the regulation of REM sleep. Moreover, MT1 knockout mice show an increase in NREM sleep, while MT2 knockout a decrease, suggesting an opposite role of these two receptors. A recent paper in mice by Sharma et al (J Pineal Res, 2018, e12498) found that MT1 but not MT2 receptors are expressed on orexin neurons in the perifornical lateral hypothalamus (PFH). Moreover, after injecting melatonin or luzindole into the mouse PFH, the authors suggest that melatonin promotes NREM sleep because activates PFH MT1 receptors, which in turn inhibit orexin neurons that are important in promoting arousal and maintaining wakefulness. In this commentary, we have critically commented on some of these findings on the bases of previous literature. In addition, we highlighted the fact that no conclusions could be drawn on the melatonin receptor subtype mediating the effects of melatonin on sleep because the authors used the non-selective MT1/MT2 receptors antagonist luzindole. More solid research should further characterize the pharmacological function of these two melatonin receptors in sleep.

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