The role of melatonin in animals which do not show marked seasonal changes in reproduction is disputed, in part because of the wide variation in reported concentrations. One reason for this may be the difficulties associated with the measurement of low molar concentrations of melatonin and the presence of a wide variety of potentially cross-reacting substances. The availability of a high affinity antiserum has allowed an assay, with low cross-reactivity and good sensitivity, to be established for the direct measurement of melatonin in a wide range of biological fluids, in particular serum, plasma and follicular fluid from man and rat. The high affinity of the antiserum enabled a tritium label of high specific activity to be used, removing the problems associated with the iodination of a small molecular weight compound. Melatonin concentrations in the assay were evaluated by four different methods: UV absorbance, gas chromatography, comparison of the immunoreactive concentrations of the label with the expected concentration by dilution and by comparison with a previously established assay which uses the same antiserum.
Melatonin was measured in serum from twelve healthy women over two 24-h periods; eight women with normal menstrual cycles and four taking the contraceptive pill. Concentrations were found to range from 19·8 to 215 pmol/l during the day in both groups. In women with normal menstrual cycles peak concentrations of 513·2 ± 54·1 (s.e.m.) pmol/l were recorded at 04.00 h, whereas higher concentrations were found in women taking the pill, reaching a peak of 849·12 ± 21·8 (s.e.m.) pmol/l at 04.00 h. Similar melatonin concentrations were measured in the two 24-h periods.
In the adult male rat, serum melatonin concentrations varied from 92·66 ± 37·9 (s.e.m.) pmol/l at 12.00 h, rising to 526 ± 55·6 (s.e.m.) pmol/l at 04.00 h.
This direct assay is more practical and robust than the assays currently available. The careful validation of assay characteristics allows its widespread use in both clinical studies and the investigation of the role of melatonin in different species.
J. Endocr. (1985) 106, 387–394