Dose-Dependent Entrainment of Rat Circadian Rhythms by Daily Injection of Melatonin

Vincent M. Cassone, Michael J. Chesworth, Stuart Maxwell Armstrong

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109 Scopus citations


Previous work in our laboratory has shown that daily injection of large doses of the pineal hormone melatonin entrains the free-running locomotor rhythms of rats held in constant darkness and synchronizes the disrupted patterns of rats maintained in constant bright light. The present experiments determined the dose-response characteristics of entrainment to daily melatonin injections and made preliminary biochemical estimates of blood melatonin levels and half-lives after two critical doses of the hormone. The data indicated that the median effective dose for melatonin as an entraining agent in free-running rats was 5.45 ± 1.33 μg/ kg, considerably lower than doses previously employed and lower than doses employed in reproductive and metabolic studies in rats and hamsters. The data further indicated that the response to melatonin was quantal; rats either entrained to melatonin or they did not. No “partial entrainment” was evident, nor were there differences in phase angle, activity, or period among all effective doses. Biochemical estimates of blood melatonin after either 1 mg/kg or 1 μg/kg of melatonin indicated that all effective doses resulted in supraphysiological levels of blood melatonin, although doses of 1 μg/kg resulted in blood levels that were within one order of magnitude of normal nighttime values. Together, the data suggest that the rat circadian system is sensitive to the pineal hormone melatonin at or below doses required to affect rodent reproduction. Whether this sensitivity reflects a role for the pineal gland in rat circadian organization, however, still remains to be determined.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-229
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biological Rhythms
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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