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J Physiol Pharmacol. 2007 Dec;58 Suppl 6:5-22.

Melatonin defeats neurally-derived free radicals and reduces the associated neuromorphological and neurobehavioral damage.

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  • 1Department of Cellular and Structural Biology, The University of Texas Health Science Center, 7703 Floyd Curl Drive, San Antonio, TX 78229, USA.


Melatonin and its metabolites are potent antioxidants by virtue of their ability to scavenge both oxygen-based and nitrogen-based radicals and intermediates but also as a consequence of their ability to stimulate the activity of antioxidative enzymes. Melatonin also prevents electron leakage from the mitochondrial electron transport chain thereby diminishing free radical generation; this process is referred to as radical avoidance. The fact that melatonin and its metabolites are all efficient radical scavengers indicates that melatonin is a precursor molecule for a variety of intracellular reducing agents. In specific reference to the brain, melatonin also has an advantage over some other antioxidants given that it readily passes through the blood-brain-barrier. This, coupled with the fact that it and its by-products are particularly efficient detoxifiers of reactive species, make these molecules of major importance in protecting the brain from oxidative/nitrosative abuse. This review summarizes the literature on two brain-related situations, i.e., traumatic brain and spinal cord injury and ischemia/reperfusion, and the neurodegenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, where melatonin has been shown to have efficacy in abating neural damage. These, however, are not the only age-associated neurodegenerative states where melatonin has been found to be protective.

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