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Role of melatonin in the eye and ocular dysfunctions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 January 2007

Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Buskerud University College, Kongsberg, Norway
Comprehensive Center for Sleep Medicine, Department of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, New York
Department of Physiology, School of Medical Sciences, University Sains Malaysia, Kubang kerian, Kelantan, Malaysia
Departamento de Fisiología, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina


Melatonin is a ubiquitous molecule and widely distributed in nature, with functional activity occurring in unicellular organisms, plants, fungi, and animals. Several studies have indicated that melatonin synthesis occurs in the retina of most vertebrates, including mammals. The retinal biosynthesis of melatonin and the mechanisms involved in the regulation of this process have been extensively studied. Circadian clocks located in the photoreceptors and retinal neurons regulate melatonin synthesis in the eye. Photoreceptors, dopaminergic amacrine neurons, and horizontal cells of the retina, corneal epithelium, stroma endothelium, and the sclera all have melatonin receptors, indicating a widespread ocular function for melatonin. In addition, melatonin is an effective antioxidant which scavenges free radicals and up-regulates several antioxidant enzymes. It also has a strong antiapoptotic signaling function, an effect that it exerts even during ischemia. Melatonin cytoprotective properties may have practical implications in the treatment of ocular diseases, like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

Research Article
© 2006 Cambridge University Press

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