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

s rodents, are nocturnal. Roman reasons that if you are interested in how the biological clock regulates cognitive function in humans, you should use a model system that reacts to the clock the same way people do.

More than two years worth of work, including the discovery that the ability to learn and remember was controlled by an endogenous (or internal) clock originating within the zebrafish, led Roman and his colleagues to hypothesize that melatonin may be responsible for poor learning and memory formation during the night. In order to test whether melatonin was involved in inhibiting nighttime learning and memory formation, they treated the zebrafish during the day with this hormone to see how the fish performed. Interestingly, melatonin failed to affect learning, but dramatically inhibited the formation of new memories, with the melatonin-treated fish resembling fish trained during the night in a test for 24-hour memory.

The next step was to inhibit melatonin signaling during the night with a melatonin receptor antagonist and test for effects on memory formation, Roman said. It was tremendous the results were, excuse the expression, like night and day. We saw dramatic improvements in nighttime memory formation by inhibiting melatonin signaling, indicating that the reason the zebrafish did not form memories at night was because of the melatonin hormone.

Next, with the pineal gland being the primary source of melatonin in fish and in people, Romans student Oliver Rawashdeh removed this gland from the fish and found they could now form memories at high levels even during the night. Removing this melatonin-producing gland allowed the researchers to alleviate the hormones negative side effects, further demonstrating that melatonin inhibits the formation of new memories during the night.

With these findings, Roman hopes to be able to retain the beneficial effects of melatonins antioxidant properties. Such benefits i
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Contact: Lisa Merkl
lkmerkl@uh.edu
713-743-8192
University of Houston  
Source:Eurekalert

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