Singlet molecular oxygen (1O2) is one of the major agents responsible for (photo)oxidative damage in biological systems including human skin and eyes. It has been reported that the neural hormone melatonin (MLT) can abrogate 1O2-mediated cytotoxicity through its purported high antioxidant activity. We studied the interaction of MLT with 1O2 in deuterium oxide (D2O), acetonitrile and methanol by measuring the phosphorescence lifetime of 1O2 in the presence of MLT and related indoles for comparison. Rose bengal (RB) was used as the main 1O2 photosensitizer. The rate constant (kq) for the total (physical and chemical) quenching of 1O2 by MLT was determined to be 4.0 × 107 M–1 s–1 in D2O (pD 7), 6.0 × 107 M–1 s–1 in acetonitrile, and 6.1 × 107 M–1 s–1 in methanol-d1. The related indoles, tryptophan, 5-hydroxyindole, 5-methoxytryptamine, 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-OH-T, serotonin), 6-hydroxymelatonin (6-OH-MLT) and 6-chloromelatonin quenched 1O2 phosphorescence with similar kq values. We also compared the photosensitized photobleaching rate of MLT with that of other indoles, which revealed that MLT is the most sensitive to 1O2 bleaching. Hydroxylation of the indole moiety in 5-OH-T and 6-OH-MLT makes them more sensitive to photodegradation. In the absence of exogenous photosensitizers MLT itself can generate 1O2 with low quantum yield (0.1 in CH3CN) upon UV excitation. Thus, the processes we investigated may occur in the skin and eyes during physiological circadian rhythm (photo)signaling involving MLT and other indoles. Our results indicate that all the indoles studied, including MLT, are quite efficient yet very similar 1O2 quenchers. This directly shows that the exceptional antioxidant ability proposed for MLT is unsubstantiated when merely chemical mechanism(s) are considered in vivo, and it must predominantly involve humoral regulation that mobilizes other antioxidant defenses in living organisms.
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Vol. 78 • No. 5