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Pineal physiology and pathophysiology, including pineal tumours 

Pineal physiology and pathophysiology, including pineal tumours
Chapter:
Pineal physiology and pathophysiology, including pineal tumours
Author(s):

Anna Aulinas

, Cristina Colom

, and Susan M. Webb

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199235292.003.2222
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date: 22 April 2018

The pineal gland is innervated mainly by sympathetic nerve fibres that inform the gland of the prevailing light-dark cycle and acts as a neuroendocrine transducer. The gland is located behind the third ventricle in the centre of the brain and is a highly vascular organ formed by neuroglial cells and parenchymal cells or pinealocytes. The latter synthesize melatonin as well as other indoleamines and peptides.

The main pineal hormone melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryp-tamine) exhibits an endogenous circadian rhythm, reflecting signals originating in the suprachiasmatic nucleus; environmental lighting entrains the rhythm, by altering its timing. Independently of sleep, pineal melatonin is inhibited by light and stimulated during darkness, thanks to the neural input by a multisynaptic pathway that connects the retina, through the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, preganglionic neurons in the upper thoracic spinal cord and postganglionic sympathetic fibres from the superior cervical ganglia, with the pineal gland.

Melatonin deficiency may produce sleeping disorders, behavioural problems, or be associated with precocious or delayed puberty in children, while chronically elevated melatonin has been observed in some cases of hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (1, 2).

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