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1.  Melatonergic drugs in development 
Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is widely known as “the darkness hormone”. It is a major chronobiological regulator involved in circadian phasing and sleep-wake cycle in humans. Numerous other functions, including cyto/neuroprotection, immune modulation, and energy metabolism have been ascribed to melatonin. A variety of studies have revealed a role for melatonin and its receptors in different pathophysiological conditions. However, the suitability of melatonin as a drug is limited because of its short half-life, poor oral bioavailability, and ubiquitous action. Due to the therapeutic potential of melatonin in a wide variety of clinical conditions, the development of new agents able to interact selectively with melatonin receptors has become an area of great interest during the last decade. Therefore, the field of melatonergic receptor agonists comprises a great number of structurally different chemical entities, which range from indolic to nonindolic compounds. Melatonergic agonists are suitable for sleep disturbances, neuropsychiatric disorders related to circadian dysphasing, and metabolic diseases associated with insulin resistance. The results of preclinical studies on animal models show that melatonin receptor agonists can be considered promising agents for the treatment of central nervous system-related pathologies. An overview of recent advances in the field of investigational melatonergic drugs will be presented in this review.
PMCID: PMC4172069  PMID: 25258560
MT1/MT2 ligands; circadian rhythms; melatonin
2.  Therapeutic Effects of Melatonin Receptor Agonists on Sleep and Comorbid Disorders 
Several melatonin receptors agonists (ramelteon, prolonged-release melatonin, agomelatine and tasimelteon) have recently become available for the treatment of insomnia, depression and circadian rhythms sleep-wake disorders. The efficacy and safety profiles of these compounds in the treatment of the indicated disorders are reviewed. Accumulating evidence indicates that sleep-wake disorders and co-existing medical conditions are mutually exacerbating. This understanding has now been incorporated into the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). Therefore, when evaluating the risk/benefit ratio of sleep drugs, it is pertinent to also evaluate their effects on wake and comorbid condition. Beneficial effects of melatonin receptor agonists on comorbid neurological, psychiatric, cardiovascular and metabolic symptomatology beyond sleep regulation are also described. The review underlines the beneficial value of enhancing physiological sleep in comorbid conditions.
PMCID: PMC4200764  PMID: 25207602
insomnia comorbid; sleep; melatonin receptors agonists
3.  New approaches in the management of insomnia: weighing the advantages of prolonged-release melatonin and synthetic melatoninergic agonists 
Hypnotic effects of melatonin and melatoninergic drugs are mediated via MT1 and MT2 receptors, especially those in the circadian pacemaker, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which acts on the hypothalamic sleep switch. Therefore, they differ fundamentally from GABAergic hypnotics. Melatoninergic agonists primarily favor sleep initiation and reset the circadian clock to phases allowing persistent sleep, as required in circadian rhythm sleep disorders. A major obstacle for the use of melatonin to support sleep maintenance in primary insomnia results from its short half-life in the circulation. Solutions to this problem have been sought by developing prolonged-release formulations of the natural hormone, or melatoninergic drugs of longer half-life, such as ramelteon, tasimelteon and agomelatine. With all these drugs, improvements of sleep are statistically demonstrable, but remain limited, especially in primary chronic insomnia, so that GABAergic drugs may be indicated. Melatoninergic agonists do not cause next-day hangover and withdrawal effects, or dependence. They do not induce behavioral changes, as sometimes observed with z-drugs. Despite otherwise good tolerability, the use of melatoninergic drugs in children, adolescents, and during pregnancy has been a matter of concern, and should be avoided in autoimmune diseases and Parkinsonism. Problems and limits of melatoninergic hypnotics are compared.
PMCID: PMC2699659  PMID: 19557144
agomelatine; hypnotics; melatonin; prolonged-release; ramelteon; tasimelteon
4.  Parasomnias: An Updated Review 
Neurotherapeutics  2012;9(4):753-775.
Parasomnias are abnormal behaviors emanating from or associated with sleep. Sleepwalking and related disorders result from an incomplete dissociation of wakefulness from nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Conditions that provoke repeated cortical arousals, or promote sleep inertia lead to NREM parasomnias by impairing normal arousal mechanisms. Changes in the cyclic alternating pattern, a biomarker of arousal instability in NREM sleep, are noted in sleepwalking disorders. Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) is characterized by a disruption of the nocturnal fast with episodes of feeding after an arousal from sleep. SRED is often associated with the use of sedative-hypnotic medications; in particular, the widely prescribed benzodiazepine receptor agonists. Recently, compelling evidence suggests that nocturnal eating may in some cases be a nonmotor manifestation of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). rapid eye movement (REM) Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD) is characterized by a loss of REM paralysis leading to potentially injurious dream enactment. The loss of atonia in RBD often predates the development of Parkinson’s disease and other disorders of synuclein pathology. Parasomnia behaviors are related to an activation (in NREM parasomnias) or a disinhibition (in RBD) of central pattern generators (CPGs). Initial management should focus on decreasing the potential for sleep-related injury followed by treating comorbid sleep disorders. Clonazepam and melatonin appear to be effective therapies in RBD, whereas paroxetine has been reported effective in some cases of sleep terrors. At this point, pharmacotherapy for other parasomnias is less certain, and further investigations are necessary.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s13311-012-0143-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC3480572  PMID: 22965264
Parasomnia; Sleepwalking; Sleep terrors; REM sleep behavior disorder; Restless legs syndrome
5.  Melatonin and Its Agonist Ramelteon in Alzheimer's Disease: Possible Therapeutic Value 
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is an age-associated neurodegenerative disease characterized by the progressive loss of cognitive function, loss of memory and insomnia, and abnormal behavioral signs and symptoms. Among the various theories that have been put forth to explain the pathophysiology of AD, the oxidative stress induced by amyloid β-protein (Aβ) deposition has received great attention. Studies undertaken on postmortem brain samples of AD patients have consistently shown extensive lipid, protein, and DNA oxidation. Presence of abnormal tau protein, mitochondrial dysfunction, and protein hyperphosphorylation all have been demonstrated in neural tissues of AD patients. Moreover, AD patients exhibit severe sleep/wake disturbances and insomnia and these are associated with more rapid cognitive decline and memory impairment. On this basis, the successful management of AD patients requires an ideal drug that besides antagonizing Aβ-induced neurotoxicity could also correct the disturbed sleep-wake rhythm and improve sleep quality. Melatonin is an effective chronobiotic agent and has significant neuroprotective properties preventing Aβ-induced neurotoxic effects in a number of animal experimental models. Since melatonin levels in AD patients are greatly reduced, melatonin replacement has the potential value to be used as a therapeutic agent for treating AD, particularly at the early phases of the disease and especially in those in whom the relevant melatonin receptors are intact. As sleep deprivation has been shown to produce oxidative damage, impaired mitochondrial function, neurodegenerative inflammation, and altered proteosomal processing with abnormal activation of enzymes, treatment of sleep disturbances may be a priority for arresting the progression of AD. In this context the newly introduced melatonin agonist ramelteon can be of much therapeutic value because of its highly selective action on melatonin MT1/MT2 receptors in promoting sleep.
PMCID: PMC3004402  PMID: 21197086
6.  Circadian melatonin rhythm and excessive daytime sleepiness in Parkinson’s disease 
JAMA neurology  2014;71(4):463-469.
Diurnal fluctuations of motor and non-motor symptoms and high prevalence of sleep/wake disturbances in Parkinson’s disease (PD) suggest a role of the circadian system in the modulation of these symptoms. Yet, surprisingly little is known regarding circadian function in PD, and whether circadian dysfunction is involved in the development of sleep/wake disturbances in PD.
The objective of this study was to determine the relationship between the timing and amplitude of the 24-hour melatonin rhythm, a marker of endogenous circadian rhythmicity, with self-reported sleep quality, the severity of daytime sleepiness and disease metrics.
A cross-sectional study, (2009–2012).
PD and Movement Disorders Center, Northwestern University, Chicago.
Twenty PD patients on stable dopaminergic therapy and 15 age-matched controls underwent blood sampling for the measurement of serum melatonin levels at 30-minute intervals for 24 hours under modified constant routine conditions.
Main Outcome Measure(s)
Clinical and demographic data, self-reported measures of sleep quality (Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI)) and daytime sleepiness (Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS)), circadian markers of the melatonin rhythm, including the amplitude, area-under-the-curve (AUC), and phase of the 24-hour rhythm.
Participants with PD had a blunted circadian rhythms of melatonin secretion compared to controls; both the amplitude of the melatonin rhythm and the 24-hour AUC for circulating melatonin levels were significantly lower in PD participants compared with controls (p<0.001). Markers of circadian phase were not significantly different between the two groups. Among PD participants, those with excessive daytime sleepiness (ESS score ≥10) had a significantly lower amplitude of the melatonin rhythm and the 24-hour melatonin AUC compared with PD participants without excessive sleepiness (p=0.001). Disease duration, UPDRS scores, levodopa equivalent dose and global PSQI scores in the PD group were not significantly related to measures of the melatonin circadian rhythm.
Conclusion and Relevance
These results indicate that circadian dysfunction may underlie excessive sleepiness in PD. The nature of this association needs to be further explored in longitudinal studies. Approaches aimed to strengthen circadian function, such as timed bright light and exercise, might potentially serve as complementary therapies for the non-motor manifestations of PD.
PMCID: PMC4078989  PMID: 24566763
7.  The Melatonergic System in Mood and Anxiety Disorders and the Role of Agomelatine: Implications for Clinical Practice 
Melatonin exerts its actions through membrane MT1/MT2 melatonin receptors, which belong to the super family of G-protein-coupled receptors consisting of the typical seven transmembrane domains. MT1 and MT2 receptors are expressed in various tissues of the body either as single ones or together. A growing literature suggests that the melatonergic system may be involved in the pathophysiology of mood and anxiety disorders. In fact, some core symptoms of depression show disturbance of the circadian rhythm in their clinical expression, such as diurnal mood and other symptomatic variation, or are closely linked to circadian system functioning, such as sleep-wake cycle alterations. In addition, alterations have been described in the circadian rhythms of several biological markers in depressed patients. Therefore, there is interest in developing antidepressants that have a chronobiotic effect (i.e., treatment of circadian rhythm disorders). As melatonin produces chronobiotic effects, efforts have been aimed at developing agomelatine, an antidepressant with melatonin agonist activity. The present paper reviews the role of the melatonergic system in the pathophysiology of mood and anxiety disorders and the clinical characteristics of agomelatine. Implications of agomelatine in “real world” clinical practice will be also discussed.
PMCID: PMC3709794  PMID: 23765220
melatonin; melatonergic receptors; serotonin; dopamine; noradrenaline; agomelatine; major depression; anxiety
8.  Neurobiology, Pathophysiology, and Treatment of Melatonin Deficiency and Dysfunction 
The Scientific World Journal  2012;2012:640389.
Melatonin is a highly pleiotropic signaling molecule, which is released as a hormone of the pineal gland predominantly during night. Melatonin secretion decreases during aging. Reduced melatonin levels are also observed in various diseases, such as types of dementia, some mood disorders, severe pain, cancer, and diabetes type 2. Melatonin dysfunction is frequently related to deviations in amplitudes, phasing, and coupling of circadian rhythms. Gene polymorphisms of melatonin receptors and circadian oscillator proteins bear risks for several of the diseases mentioned. A common symptom of insufficient melatonin signaling is sleep disturbances. It is necessary to distinguish between symptoms that are curable by short melatonergic actions and others that require extended actions during night. Melatonin immediate release is already effective, at moderate doses, for reducing difficulties of falling asleep or improving symptoms associated with poorly coupled circadian rhythms, including seasonal affective and bipolar disorders. For purposes of a replacement therapy based on longer-lasting melatonergic actions, melatonin prolonged release and synthetic agonists have been developed. Therapies with melatonin or synthetic melatonergic drugs have to consider that these agents do not only act on the SCN, but also on numerous organs and cells in which melatonin receptors are also expressed.
PMCID: PMC3354573  PMID: 22629173
9.  Melatonin in Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders 
Increased oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction have been identified as common pathophysiological phenomena associated with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease (AD), Parkinson's disease (PD) and Huntington's disease (HD). As the age-related decline in the production of melatonin may contribute to increased levels of oxidative stress in the elderly, the role of this neuroprotective agent is attracting increasing attention. Melatonin has multiple actions as a regulator of antioxidant and prooxidant enzymes, radical scavenger and antagonist of mitochondrial radical formation. The ability of melatonin and its kynuramine metabolites to interact directly with the electron transport chain by increasing the electron flow and reducing electron leakage are unique features by which melatonin is able to increase the survival of neurons under enhanced oxidative stress. Moreover, antifibrillogenic actions have been demonstrated in vitro, also in the presence of profibrillogenic apoE4 or apoE3, and in vivo, in a transgenic mouse model. Amyloid-β toxicity is antagonized by melatonin and one of its kynuramine metabolites. Cytoskeletal disorganization and protein hyperphosphorylation, as induced in several cell-line models, have been attenuated by melatonin, effects comprising stress kinase downregulation and extending to neurotrophin expression. Various experimental models of AD, PD and HD indicate the usefulness of melatonin in antagonizing disease progression and/or mitigating some of the symptoms. Melatonin secretion has been found to be altered in AD and PD. Attempts to compensate for age- and disease-dependent melatonin deficiency have shown that administration of this compound can improve sleep efficiency in AD and PD and, to some extent, cognitive function in AD patients. Exogenous melatonin has also been reported to alleviate behavioral symptoms such as sundowning. Taken together, these findings suggest that melatonin, its analogues and kynuric metabolites may have potential value in prevention and treatment of AD and other neurodegenerative disorders.
PMCID: PMC1483829  PMID: 16674804
10.  REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder in Older Individuals: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, and Management 
Drugs & aging  2010;27(6):457-470.
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a sleep disorder that predominantly affects older adults, in which patients appear to be enacting their dreams while in REM sleep. The behaviors are typically violent, in association with violent dream content, so serious harm can be done to the patient or the bed-partner. The estimated prevalence in adults is 0.4–0.5%, but the frequency is much higher in certain neurodegenerative diseases, especially Parkinson's disease, Dementia with Lewy bodies, and multiple systems atrophy. RBD can occur in the absence of diagnosed neurologic diseases (the “idiopathic” form), although patients with this form of RBD may have subtle neurologic abnormalities and often ultimately develop a neurodegenerative disorder. Animal models and cases of RBD developing after brainstem lesions (pontine tegmentum, medulla) have led to the understanding that RBD is caused by a lack of normal REM muscle atonia and a lack of normal suppression of locomotor generators during REM. Clonazepam is used as first-line therapy for RBD and melatonin for second-line therapy, although evidence for both of these interventions comes from uncontrolled case series. Because the risk of injury to the patient or the bed-partner is high, interventions to improve the safety of the sleep environment are also often necessary. This review describes the epidemiology, pathophysiology, and treatment of RBD.
PMCID: PMC2954417  PMID: 20524706
11.  Melatonin in Aging and Disease —Multiple Consequences of Reduced Secretion, Options and Limits of Treatment 
Aging and Disease  2011;3(2):194-225.
Melatonin is a pleiotropically acting regulator molecule, which influences numerous physiological functions. Its secretion by the pineal gland progressively declines by age. Strong reductions of circulating melatonin are also observed in numerous disorders and diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, various other neurological and stressful conditions, pain, cardiovascular diseases, cases of cancer, endocrine and metabolic disorders, in particular diabetes type 2. The significance of melatonergic signaling is also evident from melatonin receptor polymorphisms associated with several of these pathologies. The article outlines the mutual relationship between circadian oscillators and melatonin secretion, the possibilities for readjustment of rhythms by melatonin and its synthetic analogs, the consequences for circadian rhythm-dependent disorders concerning sleep and mood, and limits of treatment. The necessity of distinguishing between short-acting melatonergic effects, which are successful in sleep initiation and phase adjustments, and attempts of replacement strategies is emphasized. Properties of approved and some investigational melatonergic agonists are compared.
PMCID: PMC3377831  PMID: 22724080
Alzheimer’s Disease; Circadian Rhythms; Diabetes; Melatonin; Mood Disorders; Parkinson’s Disease; Sleep
12.  Measurement of melatonin in body fluids: Standards, protocols and procedures 
Child's Nervous System  2010;27(6):879-891.
Background and Purpose
The circadian rhythm of melatonin in saliva or plasma, or of the melatonin metabolite 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (a6MTs) in urine, is a defining feature of suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) function, the body’s endogenous oscillatory pacemaker. The primary objective of this review is to ascertain the clinical benefits and limitations of current methodologies employed for detection and quantification of melatonin in biological fluids and tissues.
Data Identification
A search of the English-language literature (Medline) and a systematic review of published articles were carried out.
Study Selection
Articles that specified both the methodology for quantifying melatonin and indicated the clinical purpose were chosen for inclusion in the review.
Data Extraction
The authors critically evaluated the methodological issues associated with various tools and techniques (e.g. standards, protocols, and procedures).
Results of Data Synthesis
Melatonin measurements are useful for evaluating problems related to the onset or offset of sleep and for assessing phase delays or advances of rhythms in entrained individuals. They have also become an important tool for psychiatric diagnosis, their use being recommended for phase typing in patients suffering from sleep and mood disorders. Additionally, there has been a continuous interest in the use of melatonin as a marker for neoplasms of the pineal region. Melatonin decreases such as found with aging are or post pinealectomy can cause alterations in the sleep/wake cycle. The development of sensitive and selective methods for the precise detection of melatonin in tissues and fluids has increasingly been shown to have direct relevance for clinical decision making.
Due to melatonin’s low concentration, as well as the coexistence of numerous other compounds in the blood, the routine determination of melatonin has been an analytical challenge. The available evidence indicates however that these challenges can be overcome and consequently that evaluation of melatonin's presence and activity can be an accessible and useful tool for clinical diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC3128751  PMID: 21104186
Melatonin; Circadian rhythms; Radioimmunoassay; Enzyme-linked immunoassay; High-performance liquid chromatography; Mass spectrometry; Capillary electrophoresis
13.  Clinical Aspects of Melatonin Intervention in Alzheimer’s Disease Progression 
Current Neuropharmacology  2010;8(3):218-227.
Melatonin secretion decreases in Alzheimer´s disease (AD) and this decrease has been postulated as responsible for the circadian disorganization, decrease in sleep efficiency and impaired cognitive function seen in those patients. Half of severely ill AD patients develop chronobiological day-night rhythm disturbances like an agitated behavior during the evening hours (so-called “sundowning”). Melatonin replacement has been shown effective to treat sundowning and other sleep wake disorders in AD patients. The antioxidant, mitochondrial and antiamyloidogenic effects of melatonin indicate its potentiality to interfere with the onset of the disease. This is of particularly importance in mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an etiologically heterogeneous syndrome that precedes dementia. The aim of this manuscript was to assess published evidence of the efficacy of melatonin to treat AD and MCI patients. PubMed was searched using Entrez for articles including clinical trials and published up to 15 January 2010. Search terms were “Alzheimer” and “melatonin”. Full publications were obtained and references were checked for additional material where appropriate. Only clinical studies with empirical treatment data were reviewed. The analysis of published evidence made it possible to postulate melatonin as a useful ad-on therapeutic tool in MCI. In the case of AD, larger randomized controlled trials are necessary to yield evidence of effectiveness (i.e. clinical and subjective relevance) before melatonin´s use can be advocated.
PMCID: PMC3001215  PMID: 21358972
Melatonin; Alzheimer's disease; minimal cognitive impairment; neuropsychological tests; clinical trials.
14.  Treatment Outcomes in REM Sleep Behavior Disorder 
Sleep medicine  2013;14(3):237-242.
REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is usually characterized by potentially injurious dream enactment behaviors (DEB). RBD treatment aims to reduce DEBs and prevent injury, but outcomes require further elucidation. We surveyed RBD patients to describe longitudinal treatment outcomes with melatonin and clonazepam.
We surveyed and reviewed records of consecutive RBD patients seen at Mayo Clinic between 2008–2010 to describe RBD-related injury frequency/severity as well as RBD Visual Analog Scale (VAS) ratings, medication dosage, and side effects. Statistical analyses were performed with appropriate non-parametric matched pairs tests before and after treatment, and with comparative group analyses for continuous and categorical variables between treatment groups. The primary outcome variables were RBD VAS ratings and injury frequency.
Forty-five (84.9%) of 53 respondent surveys were analyzed. Mean age was 65.8 years and 35 (77.8%) patients were men. Neurodegenerative disorders were seen in 24 (53%) patients, and 25 (56%) received antidepressants. Twenty-five patients received melatonin, 18 received clonazepam, and 2 received both as initial treatment. Before treatment, 27 patients (60%) reported an RBD associated injury. Median dosages were melatonin 6 mg and clonazepam 0.5 mg. RBD VAS ratings were significantly improved following both treatments (pm=.0001, pc=.0005). Melatonin-treated patients reported significantly reduced injuries (pm=.001, pc=.06) and fewer adverse effects (p=0.07). Mean durations of treatment were no different between groups (for clonazepam 53.9 +/− 29.5 months, and for melatonin 27.4 +/− 24 months, p=0.13) and there were no differences in treatment retention, with 28% of melatonin and 22% of clonazepam-treated patients discontinuing treatment (p=0.43).
Melatonin and clonazepam were each reported to reduce RBD behaviors and injuries and appeared comparably effective in our naturalistic practice experience. Melatonin-treated patients reported less frequent adverse effects than those treated with clonazepam. More effective treatments that would eliminate injury potential and evidence-based treatment outcomes from prospective clinical trials for RBD are needed.
PMCID: PMC3617579  PMID: 23352028
REM sleep behavior disorder; parasomnia; melatonin; clonazepam; treatment; side effects; tolerability; retention; injury; falls; synucleinopathy
15.  Neurotoxic lesions at the ventral mesopontine junction change sleep time and muscle activity during sleep: An animal model of motor disorders in sleep 
Neuroscience  2008;154(2):431-443.
There is no adequate animal model of restless legs syndrome (RLS) and periodic leg movements disorder (PLMD), disorders affecting 10% of the population. Similarly, there is no model of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD) that explains its symptoms and its link to Parkinsonism. We previously reported that the motor inhibitory system in the brainstem extends from the medulla to the ventral mesopontine junction (VMPJ). We now examine the effects of damage to the VMPJ in the cat. Based on the lesion sites and the changes in sleep pattern and behavior, we saw three distinct syndromes resulting from such lesions; the rostrolateral, rostromedial and caudal VMPJ syndromes. The change in sleep pattern was dependent on the lesion site, but was not significantly correlated with the number of dopaminergic neurons lost. An increase in wakefulness and a decrease in slow wave sleep (SWS) and REM sleep were seen in the rostrolateral VMPJ lesioned animals. In contrast, the sleep pattern was not significant changed after lesion in rostromedial and caudal VMPJ lesioned animals. All 3 groups of animals showed a significant increase in periodic and isolated leg movements in SWS and increased tonic muscle activity in REM sleep. Beyond these common symptoms, an increase in phasic motor activity in REM sleep, resembling that seen in human RBD, was found in the caudal VMPJ lesioned animals. In contrast, the increase in motor activity in SWS in rostral VMPJ lesioned animals is similar to that seen in human RLS/PLMD patients. The proximity of the VMPJ region to the substantia nigra suggests that the link between RLS/PLMD and Parkinsonism, as well as the progression from RBD to Parkinsonism may be mediated by the spread of damage from the regions identified here into the substantia nigra.
PMCID: PMC4283489  PMID: 18487021
periodic leg movements; REM sleep behavior disorder; Parkinsonism; pons; retrorubral nucleus; substantia nigra
16.  Aging and oxygen toxicity: Relation to changes in melatonin 
Age  1997;20(4):201-213.
Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is a chemical mediator produced in the pineal gland and other sites in the body. The melatonin found in the blood is derived almost exclusively from the pineal gland. Since the pineal synthesizes melatonin primarily at night, blood levels of the indole are also higher at night (5–15 fold) than during the day. Some individuals on a nightly basis produce twice as much melatonin as others of the same age. Throughout life, the melatonin rhythm gradually wanes such that, in advanced age, melatonin production is usually at a minimum. Melatonin was recently found to be a free radical scavenger and antioxidant. It has been shown, in the experimental setting, to protect against both free radical induced DNA damage and oxidative stress-mediated lipid peroxidation. Pharmacologically, melatonin has been shown to reduce oxidative damage caused by such toxins as the chemical carcinogen safrole, carbon tetrachloride, paraquat, bacterial lipopolysaccharide, kainic acid, δ-aminolevulinic and amyloid β peptide of Alzheimer’s disease as well as a model of Parkinson’s disease involving the drug 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP). Additionally, the oxidative damage caused by agents such as ionizing radiation and excessive exercise is reduced by melatonin. Since free radical-induced molecular injury may play a significant role in aging, melatonin’s ability to protect against it suggests a potential function of melatonin in deferring aging and age-related, free radical-based diseases. Besides its ability to abate oxidative damage, other beneficial features of melatonin may be important in combating the signs of aging; these include melatonin’s immune-stimulating function, its sleep-promoting ability, its function as an anti-viral agent, and general protective actions at the cellular level. Definitive tests of the specific functions of physiological levels of melatonin in processes of aging are currently being conducted.
PMCID: PMC3455256  PMID: 23604322
17.  Antiinflammatory Activity of Melatonin in Central Nervous System 
Current Neuropharmacology  2010;8(3):228-242.
Melatonin is mainly produced in the mammalian pineal gland during the dark phase. Its secretion from the pineal gland has been classically associated with circadian and circanual rhythm regulation. However, melatonin production is not confined exclusively to the pineal gland, but other tissues including retina, Harderian glands, gut, ovary, testes, bone marrow and lens also produce it. Several studies have shown that melatonin reduces chronic and acute inflammation. The immunomodulatory properties of melatonin are well known; it acts on the immune system by regulating cytokine production of immunocompetent cells. Experimental and clinical data showing that melatonin reduces adhesion molecules and pro-inflammatory cytokines and modifies serum inflammatory parameters. As a consequence, melatonin improves the clinical course of illnesses which have an inflammatory etiology. Moreover, experimental evidence supports its actions as a direct and indirect antioxidant, scavenging free radicals, stimulating antioxidant enzymes, enhancing the activities of other antioxidants or protecting other antioxidant enzymes from oxidative damage. Several encouraging clinical studies suggest that melatonin is a neuroprotective molecule in neurodegenerative disorders where brain oxidative damage has been implicated as a common link. In this review, the authors examine the effect of melatonin on several neurological diseases with inflammatory components, including dementia, Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and brain ischemia/reperfusion but also in traumatic CNS injuries (traumatic brain and spinal cord injury)
PMCID: PMC3001216  PMID: 21358973
Melatonin; inflammation; neurodegeneration; mitochondria; antioxidant; free radical.
18.  Winter Depression: Integrating mood, circadian rhythms, and the sleep/wake and light/dark cycles into a bio-psycho-social-environmental model 
Sleep medicine clinics  2009;4(2):285-299.
The phase shift hypothesis (PSH) states that most patients with SAD become depressed in the winter because of a delay in circadian rhythms with respect to the sleep/wake cycle: According to the PSH, these patients should preferentially respond to the antidepressant effects of bright light exposure when it is scheduled in the morning so as to provide a corrective phase advance and restore optimum alignment between the circadian rhythms tightly coupled to the endogenous circadian pacemaker and those rhythms that are related to the sleep/wake cycle. Recent support for the PSH has come from studies in which symptom severity was shown to correlate with the degree of circadian misalignment: it appears that a subgroup of patients are phase advanced, not phase delayed; however, the phase-delayed type is predominant in SAD and perhaps in other disorders as well, such as non-seasonal unipolar depression. It is expected that during the next few years the PSH will be tested in these and other conditions, particularly since healthy subjects appear to have more severe symptoms of sub-clinical dysphoria correlating with phase-delayed circadian misalignment; critically important will be the undertaking of treatment trials to investigate the therapeutic efficacy of morning bright light or afternoon/evening low-dose melatonin in these disorders in which symptoms are more severe as the dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) is delayed with respect to the sleep/wake cycle (non-restorative sleep should also be evaluated, as well as bipolar disorder). The possibility that some individuals (and disorders) will be of the phase-advanced type should be considered, taking into account that the correct timing of phase-resetting agents for them will be bright light scheduled in the evening and/or low-dose melatonin taken in the morning. While sleep researchers and clinicians are accustomed to phase-typing patients with circadian-rhythm sleep disorders according to the timing of sleep, phase typing based on the DLMO with respect to the sleep/wake cycle may lead to quite different recommendations for the optimal scheduling of phase-resetting agents, particularly for the above disorders and conditions.
PMCID: PMC2768314  PMID: 20160896
Melatonin; Light; Dim light melatonin onset (DLMO); Winter depression (SAD); Phase angle difference (PAD); Bio-psycho-social-environmental model
19.  Advances in the Research of Melatonin in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Literature Review and New Perspectives 
Abnormalities in melatonin physiology may be involved or closely linked to the pathophysiology and behavioral expression of autistic disorder, given its role in neurodevelopment and reports of sleep-wake rhythm disturbances, decreased nocturnal melatonin production, and beneficial therapeutic effects of melatonin in individuals with autism. In addition, melatonin, as a pineal gland hormone produced from serotonin, is of special interest in autistic disorder given reported alterations in central and peripheral serotonin neurobiology. More specifically, the role of melatonin in the ontogenetic establishment of circadian rhythms and the synchronization of peripheral oscillators opens interesting perspectives to ascertain better the mechanisms underlying the significant relationship found between lower nocturnal melatonin excretion and increased severity of autistic social communication impairments, especially for verbal communication and social imitative play. In this article, first we review the studies on melatonin levels and the treatment studies of melatonin in autistic disorder. Then, we discuss the relationships between melatonin and autistic behavioral impairments with regard to social communication (verbal and non-verbal communication, social interaction), and repetitive behaviors or interests with difficulties adapting to change. In conclusion, we emphasize that randomized clinical trials in autism spectrum disorders are warranted to establish potential therapeutic efficacy of melatonin for social communication impairments and stereotyped behaviors or interests.
PMCID: PMC3821628  PMID: 24129182
melatonin; biological clocks; circadian rhythm; synchrony; autism spectrum disorders; social communication; stereotyped behaviors
20.  REM Sleep Behavior Disorder and Prodromal Neurodegeneration – Where Are We Headed? 
Tremor and Other Hyperkinetic Movements  2013;3:tre-03-134-2929-1.
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is characterized by loss of normal atonia during REM sleep, such that patients appear to act out their dreams. The most important implication of research into this area is that patients with idiopathic RBD are at very high risk of developing synuclein-mediated neurodegenerative disease (Parkinson's disease [PD], dementia with Lewy bodies [DLB], and multiple system atrophy), with risk estimates that approximate 40–65% at 10 years. Thus, RBD disorder is a very strong feature of prodromal synucleinopathy. This provides several opportunities for future research. First, patients with REM sleep behavior disorder can be studied to test other predictors of disease, which could potentially be applied to the general population. These studies have demonstrated that olfactory loss, decreased color vision, slowing on quantitative motor testing, and abnormal substantia nigra neuroimaging findings can predict clinical synucleinopathy. Second, prospectively studying patients with RBD allows a completely unprecedented opportunity to directly evaluate patients as they transition into clinical neurodegenerative disease. Studies assessing progression of markers of neurodegeneration in prodromal PD are beginning to appear. Third, RBD are very promising subjects for neuroprotective therapy trials because they have a high risk of disease conversion with a sufficiently long latency, which provides an opportunity for early intervention. As RBD research expands, collaboration between centers will become increasingly essential.
PMCID: PMC3607914  PMID: 23532774
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder; Parkinson's disease; Dementia with Lewy bodies; prodromal
21.  A Systematic, Updated Review on the Antidepressant Agomelatine Focusing on its Melatonergic Modulation 
Current Neuropharmacology  2010;8(3):287-304.
To present an updated, comprehensive review on clinical and pre-clinical studies on agomelatine.
A MEDLINE, Psycinfo and Web of Science search (1966-May 2009) was performed using the following keywords: agomelatine, melatonin, S20098, efficacy, safety, adverse effect, pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Alzheimer, ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder (PD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders and mood disorder.
Study collection and data extraction:
All articles in English identified by the data sources were evaluated. Randomized, controlled clinical trials involving humans were prioritized in the review. The physiological bases of melatonergic transmission were also examined to deepen the clinical comprehension of agomelatine’ melatonergic modulation.
Data synthesis:
Agomelatine, a melatonergic analogue drug acting as MT1/MT2 agonist and 5-HT2C antagonist, has been reported to be an effective antidepressant therapy.
Although a bias in properly assessing the “sleep core” of depression may still exist with current screening instruments, therefore making difficult to compare agomelatine’ efficacy to other antidepressant ones, comparative studies showed agomelatine to be an intriguing option for depression and, potentially, for other therapeutic targets as well.
PMCID: PMC3001221  PMID: 21358978
Agomelatine; melatonin; depression; mood; cognition; Alzheimer; bipolar disorder.
22.  Pharmacotherapy of Insomnia with Ramelteon: Safety, Efficacy and Clinical Applications 
Ramelteon is a tricyclic synthetic analog of melatonin that acts specifically on MT1 and MT2 melatonin receptors. Ramelteon is the first melatonin receptor agonist approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of insomnia characterized by sleep onset difficulties. Ramelteon is both a chronobiotic and a hypnotic that has been shown to promote sleep initiation and maintenance in various preclinical and in clinical trials. The efficacy and safety of ramelteon in patients with chronic insomnia was initially confirmed in short-term placebo-controlled trials. These showed little evidence of next-day residual effects, withdrawal symptoms or rebound insomnia. Other studies indicated that ramelteon lacked abuse potential and had a minimal risk of producing dependence or adverse effects on cognitive or psychomotor performance. A 6-month placebo-controlled international study and a 1-year open-label study in the USA demonstrated that ramelteon was effective and well tolerated. Other potential off-label uses of ramelteon include circadian rhythm sleep disorders such as shift-work and jet lag. At the present time the drug should be cautiously prescribed for short-term treatment only.
PMCID: PMC3663615  PMID: 23861638
circadian rhythms; hypnotic; insomnia; melatonin; ramelteon; sleep
23.  Sleep and Circadian Rhythm Regulation in Early Parkinson Disease 
JAMA neurology  2014;71(5):589-595.
Sleep disturbances are recognized as a common nonmotor complaint in Parkinson disease but their etiology is poorly understood.
To define the sleep and circadian phenotype of patients with early-stage Parkinson disease.
Initial assessment of sleep characteristics in a large population-representative incident Parkinson disease cohort (N=239) at the University of Cambridge, England, followed by further comprehensive case-control sleep assessments in a subgroup of these patients (n=30) and matched controls (n=15).
Sleep diagnoses and sleep architecture based on polysomnography studies, actigraphy assessment, and 24-hour analyses of serum cortisol, melatonin, and peripheral clock gene expression (Bmal1, Per2, and Rev-Erbα).
Subjective sleep complaints were present in almost half of newly diagnosed patients and correlated significantly with poorer quality of life. Patients with Parkinson disease exhibited increased sleep latency (P = .04), reduced sleep efficiency (P = .008), and reduced rapid eye movement sleep (P = .02). In addition, there was a sustained elevation of serum cortisol levels, reduced circulating melatonin levels, and altered Bmal1 expression in patients with Parkinson disease compared with controls.
Sleep dysfunction seen in early Parkinson disease may reflect a more fundamental pathology in the molecular clock underlying circadian rhythms.
PMCID: PMC4119609  PMID: 24687146
24.  Sleep disturbance and melatonin levels following traumatic brain injury 
Neurology  2010;74(21):1732-1738.
Objectives: Sleep disturbances commonly follow traumatic brain injury (TBI) and contribute to ongoing disability. However, there are no conclusive findings regarding specific changes to sleep quality and sleep architecture measured using polysomnography. Possible causes of the sleep disturbances include disruption of circadian regulation of sleep-wakefulness, psychological distress, and a neuronal response to injury. We investigated sleep-wake disturbances and their underlying mechanisms in a TBI patient sample.
Methods: This was an observational study comparing 23 patients with TBI (429.7 ± 287.6 days post injury) and 23 age- and gender-matched healthy volunteers on polysomnographic sleep measures, salivary dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) time, and self-reported sleep quality, anxiety, and depression.
Results: Patients with TBI reported higher anxiety and depressive symptoms and sleep disturbance than controls. Patients with TBI showed decreased sleep efficiency (SE) and increased wake after sleep onset (WASO). Although no significant group differences were found in sleep architecture, when anxiety and depression scores were controlled, patients with TBI showed higher amount of slow wave sleep. No differences in self-reported sleep timing or salivary DLMO time were found. However, patients with TBI showed significantly lower levels of evening melatonin production. Melatonin level was significantly correlated with REM sleep but not SE or WASO.
Conclusions: Reduced evening melatonin production may indicate disruption to circadian regulation of melatonin synthesis. The results suggest that there are at least 2 factors contributing to sleep disturbances in patients with traumatic brain injury. We propose that elevated depression is associated with reduced sleep quality, and increased slow wave sleep is attributed to the effects of mechanical brain damage.
PMCID: PMC3462582  PMID: 20498441
25.  Actigraphy as a diagnostic aid for REM sleep behavior disorder in Parkinson’s disease 
BMC Neurology  2014;14:76.
Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a common parasomnia in Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients. The current International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD-II) requires a clinical interview combined with video polysomnography (video-PSG) to diagnose. The latter is time consuming and expensive and not always feasible in clinical practice. Here we studied the use of actigraphy as a diagnostic tool for RBD in PD patients.
We studied 45 consecutive PD patients (66.7% men) with and without complaints of RBD. All patients underwent one night of video-PSG and eight consecutive nights of actigraphy. Based on previous studies, the main outcome measure was the total number of bouts classified as “wake”, compared between patients with (PD + RBD) and without RBD (PD- RBD).
23 (51.1%) patients had RBD according to the ICSD-II criteria. The total number of wake bouts was significantly higher in RBD patients (PD + RBD 73.2 ± 40.2 vs. PD-RBD 48.4 ± 23.3, p = .016). A cut off of 95 wake bouts per night resulted in a specificity of 95.5%, a sensitivity of 20.1% and a positive predictive value of 85.7%. Seven patients were suspected of RBD based on the interview alone, but not confirmed on PSG; six of whom scored below 95 wake bouts per night on actigraphy.
PD patients with RBD showed a significantly higher number of bouts scored as “wake” using actigraphy, compared to patients without RBD. In clinical practice, actigraphy has a high specificity, but low sensitivity in the diagnosis of RBD. The combination of actigraphy and previously reported RBD questionnaires may be a promising method to diagnose RBD in patients with PD.
PMCID: PMC3986453  PMID: 24708629
Parkinson’s disease; Actigraphy; REM sleep behavior disorder; Polysomnography

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