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Int J Radiat Biol. 2011 Jun;87(6):545-55. doi: 10.3109/09553002.2011.560993. Epub 2011 Mar 14.

Melatonin protects human cells from clustered DNA damages, killing and acquisition of soft agar growth induced by X-rays or 970 MeV/n Fe ions.

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  • 1Biology Department, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY, USA.



We tested the ability of melatonin (N-acetyl-5 methoxytryptamine), a highly effective radical scavenger and human hormone, to protect DNA in solution and in human cells against induction of complex DNA clusters and biological damage induced by low or high linear energy transfer radiation (100 kVp X-rays, 970 MeV/nucleon Fe ions).


Plasmid DNA in solution was treated with increasing concentrations of melatonin (0.0-3.5 mM) and were irradiated with X-rays. Human cells (28SC monocytes) were also irradiated with X-rays and Fe ions with and without 2 mM melatonin. Agarose plugs containing genomic DNA were subjected to Contour Clamped Homogeneous Electrophoretic Field (CHEF) followed by imaging and clustered DNA damages were measured by using Number Average length analysis. Transformation experiments on human primary fibroblast cells using soft agar colony assay were carried out which were irradiated with Fe ions with or without 2 mM melatonin.


In plasmid DNA in solution, melatonin reduced the induction of single- and double-strand breaks. Pretreatment of human 28SC cells for 24 h before irradiation with 2 mM melatonin reduced the level of X-ray induced double-strand breaks by ∼50%, of abasic clustered damages about 40%, and of Fe ion-induced double-strand breaks (41% reduction) and abasic clusters (34% reduction). It decreased transformation to soft agar growth of human primary cells by a factor of 10, but reduced killing by Fe ions only by 20-40%.


Melatonin's effective reduction of radiation-induced critical DNA damages, cell killing, and striking decrease of transformation suggest that it is an excellent candidate as a countermeasure against radiation exposure, including radiation exposure to astronaut crews in space travel.

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