Team finds melatonin delays ALS symptom onset and death in mice

April 25, 2013

Melatonin injections delayed symptom onset and reduced mortality in a mouse model of the neurodegenerative condition amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In a report published online ahead of print in the journal Neurobiology of Disease, the team revealed that receptors for melatonin are found in the nerve cells, a finding that could launch novel therapeutic approaches.

Annually about 5,000 people are diagnosed with ALS, which is characterized by and eventual death due to the failure of respiratory muscles, said senior investigator Robert Friedlander, M.D., UPMC Endowed Professor of neurosurgery and neurobiology and chair, Department of Neurological Surgery, Pitt School of Medicine. But the causes of the condition are not well understood, thwarting development of a cure or even effective treatments.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that is best known for its role in sleep regulation. After screening more than a thousand FDA-approved drugs several years ago, the research team determined that melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that blocks the release of enzymes that activate apoptosis, or programmed cell death.

"Our experiments show for the first time that a lack of melatonin and melatonin receptor 1, or MT1, is associated with the progression of ALS," Dr. Friedlander said. "We saw similar results in a Huntington's disease model in an earlier project, suggesting similar are disrupted in these challenging ."

Hoping to stop in ALS just as they did in Huntington's, the research team treated mice bred to have an ALS-like disease with injections of melatonin or with a placebo. Compared to untreated animals, the melatonin group developed symptoms later, survived longer, and had less degeneration of in the spinal cord.

"Much more work has to be done to unravel these mechanisms before human trials of melatonin or a drug akin to it can be conducted to determine its usefulness as an ALS treatment," Dr. Friedlander said. "I suspect that a combination of agents that act on these pathways will be needed to make headway with this devastating disease."

Explore further: Using human genetics to reveal fundamental processes involved in type 2 diabetes

Related Stories

The mystery of breast cancer

April 20, 2015

For most of the common cancers, a major cause has been identified: smoking causes 90% of lung cancer worldwide, hepatitis viruses cause most liver cancer, H pylori bacteria causes stomach cancer, Human papillomavirus causes ...

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.