Earlier studies have shown that the pineal hormone melatonin activates human monocytes. It is reported here that melatonin induces the secretion of IL-1, IL-6, and TNF in fresh and 1-day in vitro cultured monocytes that also express the melatonin receptor (Kd = 270 +/- 60 pM; 42,000-48,000 receptors/cell). However, when monocytes were cultured in vitro for 2 days, the number of receptors decreased to 11,000 receptors/cell, with the same Kd. LPS activation of fresh or 1-day cultured monocytes did not result in any increase in melatonin receptor number. LPS activation of 2-day cultured monocytes led to an increase in the number of melatonin receptors, from 11,000 receptors/cell to the plateau of 42,000 to 48,000 receptors/cell. The loss of receptors by 2-day cultured monocytes was not irreversible. Melatonin did not induce the release of IL-1, TNF, or IL-6 in monocytes cultured in vitro for 3 days and for up to 15 days, and these long time cultured monocytes did not express the melatonin receptors even after activation by LPS. The loss of melatonin receptors by monocytes cultured in vitro for 3 days and for up to 15 days was irreversible. Therefore, it is shown for the first time that human monocytes express melatonin receptors. Furthermore, human monocytes express melatonin receptors differentially depending on their state of maturation, and it appears that in vitro monocyte differentiation and maturation negatively affect human monocyte melatonin receptor expression.