The pineal product melatonin has remarkable antioxidant properties. It scavenges hydroxyl, carbonate and various organic radicals, peroxynitrite and other reactive nitrogen species. Melatonyl radicals formed by scavenging combine with and, thereby, detoxify superoxide anions in processes terminating the radical reaction chains.
Melatonin also enhances the antioxidant potential of the cell by stimulating the synthesis of antioxidant enzymes like superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and glutathione reductase, and by augmenting glutathione levels. The decline in melatonin production in aged individuals has been suggested as one of the primary contributing factors for the development of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases, e.g., Alzheimer's disease.
Melatonin has been shown to be effective in arresting neurodegenerative phenomena seen in experimental models of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinsonism and ischemic stroke. Melatonin preserves mitochondrial homeostasis, reduces free radical generation, e.g., by enhancing mitochondrial glutathione levels, and safeguards proton potential and ATP synthesis by stimulating complex I and IV activities.
Therapeutic trials with melatonin have been effective in slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease but not of Parkinson's disease. Melatonin's efficacy in combating free radical damage in the brain suggests that it may be a valuable therapeutic agent in the treatment of cerebral edema after traumatic brain injury.