Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is synthesized and released by the pineal gland following a circadian rhythm characterized by high levels during the night. It shows several pharmacological effects on diverse cellular and animal models, mainly related to either its antioxidant activity or to its ability to activate specific receptors (MTr). Melatonin is widely used as a self-administered food additive, but its therapeutic potential needs more investigation and is hampered by its poor pharmacokinetics. This review will focus on the medicinal chemistry of agonist ligands of the two human GPCRs MT1 and MT2 melatonin receptors. The recent introduction of ramelteon, a non-selective MT1/MT2 agonist for the treatment of insomnia, and the advancement to clinical trials of other MTr agonists have renewed interest for different classes of compounds endowed with this activity. Several chemical classes of MTr agonists are described in the literature, generally characterized by an indole, or an indole bioisostere, carrying an amide side chain and a methoxy group, or substituents with similar stereoelectronic features. Abundant information is available for nonselective MT1/MT2 ligands, and several molecular models, both ligand- and receptor-based, have been proposed to rationalize their structure activity relationships. Fewer classes of selective agonists have been reported in the literature, and they could help clarifying the physiological role of the two receptor subtypes. A brief discussion on the therapeutic potential of this class of compounds is based on the clinical data available for the agonists ramelteon, agomelatine, β- methyl-6-chloromelatonin (TIK-301) and VEC-162.
Institute of Medicinal Chemistry, University of Urbino “Carlo Bo”, Piazza Rinascimento 6, I-61029 Urbino, Italy.