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Acta Endocrinol (Copenh). 1993 Nov;129(5):442-5.

Light deprivation increases plasma levels of melatonin during the first 72 h of life in human infants.

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  • 1Departamento de Pediatría, Hospital Universitario de Granada, Spain.


The development of rhythmic melatonin secretion in full-term neonates seems to occur at about 12 weeks of age, but activity of the pineal gland from 1 to 12 weeks of age is not well documented. To determine whether the pineal gland actively secretes melatonin and reacts to photoperiodic information during this period, we analyzed 45 full-term infants exposed to continuous artificial light during 24, 48 and 72 h after birth for treatment of hyperbilirubinemia. During this light treatment, the eyes of the neonates were completely covered to avoid damage, thus the infants were under continuous light deprivation. Phototherapy significantly decreased plasma bilirubin during treatment. With regard to pineal gland activity, the shortest period of light deprivation tested, 24 h, significantly increased plasma melatonin levels from 152.66 +/- 11.57 to 244.86 +/- 19.49 ng/l (mean +/- SEM; p < 0.001). The other periods tested, 48 and 72 h of light deprivation, led to similar percentages of melatonin stimulation. These results suggest that the pineal gland of neonates, before displaying rhythmic metabolic activity, is sensitive to changes in environmental illumination, indicating maturity of some features of suprachiasmatic nuclei function.

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