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The hormone of darkness: melatonin could hurt memory formation at night
Date:11/15/2007

HOUSTON What do you do when a naturally occurring hormone in your body turns against you? What do you do when that same hormone melatonin is a popular supplement you take to help you sleep? A University of Houston professor and his team of researchers may have some answers.

Gregg W. Roman, assistant professor in the department of biology and biochemistry at UH, describes his teams findings in a paper titled Melatonin Suppresses Nighttime Memory Formation in Zebrafish, appearing Nov. 16 in Science, the worlds leading journal of original scientific research, global news and commentary.

Frequently called the hormone of darkness, melatonin is a hormone the body produces that may regulate patterns of sleeping and awakening in humans. In almost all organisms tested, this antioxidants natural levels are high during the night and low during the day. In addition to what the body produces naturally, many people also take melatonin supplements to fight jet lag, balance out seasonal affect disorder and regulate nighttime dementia.

Roman says, however, that melatonin could actually be hurting you at night, finding in a study with zebrafish (Danio rerio) that melatonin directly inhibits memory formation.

This work is about the mechanism by which the biological clock controls the formation of new memories, Roman said. We were interested in the circadian control the day-night cycle control of learning and memory formation. We found zebrafish are capable of learning very well during their active phase during the day, but learn very poorly at night during their sleep or quiet phase.

The experiments were performed using zebrafish for several reasons. Theyre small and breed in large numbers (thereby being less expensive to use), and they are diurnal, having the same activity rhythms as people. Zebrafish are most active during the day and less active at night, whereas many other vertebrate model systems, such a
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Contact: Lisa Merkl
lkmerkl@uh.edu
713-743-8192
University of Houston  
Source:Eurekalert

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