Melatonin is primarily synthesized and secreted by the pineal gland during darkness in a normal diurnal cycle. In addition to its intrinsic antioxidant property, the neurohormone has renowned regulatory roles in the control of circadian rhythm and exerts its physiological actions primarily by interacting with the G protein-coupled MT1
transmembrane receptors. The two melatonin receptor subtypes display identical ligand binding characteristics and mediate a myriad of signaling pathways, including adenylyl cyclase inhibition, phospholipase C stimulation and the regulation of other effector molecules. Both MT1
receptors are widely expressed in the central nervous system as well as many peripheral tissues, but each receptor subtype can be linked to specific functional responses at the target tissue. Given the broad therapeutic implications of melatonin receptors in chronobiology, immunomodulation, endocrine regulation, reproductive functions and cancer development, drug discovery and development programs have been directed at identifying chemical molecules that bind to the two melatonin receptor subtypes. However, all of the melatoninergics in the market act on both subtypes of melatonin receptors without significant selectivity. To facilitate the design and development of novel therapeutic agents, it is necessary to understand the intrinsic differences between MT1
that determine ligand binding, functional efficacy, and signaling specificity. This review summarizes our current knowledge in differentiating MT1
receptors and their signaling capacities. The use of homology modeling in the mapping of the ligand-binding pocket will be described. Identification of conserved and distinct residues will be tremendously useful in the design of highly selective ligands.