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Chronobiol Int. 2006;23(1-2):21-37.

Melatonin and human rhythms.

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Centre for Chronobiology, School of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford, England.


Melatonin signals time of day and time of year in mammals by virtue of its pattern of secretion, which defines 'biological night.' It is supremely important for research on the physiology and pathology of the human biological clock. Light suppresses melatonin secretion at night using pathways involved in circadian photoreception. The melatonin rhythm (as evidenced by its profile in plasma, saliva, or its major metabolite, 6-sulphatoxymelatonin [aMT6s] in urine) is the best peripheral index of the timing of the human circadian pacemaker. Light suppression and phase-shifting of the melatonin 24 h profile enables the characterization of human circadian photoreception, and circulating concentrations of the hormone are used to investigate the general properties of the human circadian system in health and disease. Suppression of melatonin by light at night has been invoked as a possible influence on major disease risk as there is increasing evidence for its oncostatic effects. Exogenous melatonin acts as a 'chronobiotic.' Acutely, it increases sleep propensity during 'biological day.' These properties have led to successful treatments for serveal circadian rhythm disorders. Endogenous melatonin acts to reinforce the functioning of the human circadian system, probably in many ways. The future holds much promise for melatonin as a research tool and as a therapy for various conditions.

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