Neuroprotective properties of melatonin may improve outcomes in patients with spinal cord injury

doctor examining spine

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a neurologic disorder that often causes loss of motor function, paralysis, and even death. Currently, no treatment exists that can reverse the effects of SCI. However, clinicians and researchers are working to find treatment methods that can improve physical and sensory function in individuals who with SCI-related complications.

Recently, researchers have investigated melatonin as a potential treatment option for SCI. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the pineal gland. Released in daily cycles, melatonin is responsible for regulating our circadian rhythms, or the 24-hour sleep cycle that most of us naturally follow. Researchers have noted that melatonin may have several benefits for treating the complications caused by SCI.

  • Melatonin is an antioxidant. In other words, it has chemical characteristics that can decrease oxygen-related cell damage. Because SCI commonly causes oxidative injuries, melatonin’s antioxidant properties may mitigate some of the cell death and tissue damage caused by injury-related oxidation.
  • Melatonin can reduce inflammation. SCI often triggers the release of proinflammatory substances in the body, which can cause exacerbate the injury. When melatonin is administered soon after the initial SCI, it may mediate inflammatory responses and prevent tissue damage.
  • Melatonin can inhibit cell apoptosis, a process of cell death that is exacerbated by SCI. Compounds found in melatonin are known to stabilize cell membranes, which can protect them from death after SCI occurs.
  • Melatonin can regulate edema. After SCI, cells may retain water and swell, causing further tissue damage. Melatonin can reduce swelling in neurons and astrocytes, brain cells that are critical for brain function and healing.

Although the long-term damage associated with SCI is typically permanent, melatonin is a promising intervention for mitigating the cellular damage caused by SCI, potentially improving patient outcomes over time. Further research is necessary to gain a more complete understanding of melatonin as a treatment option for patients with SCI.

Zhang Y, Zhang W, Zhang Y, et al. Melatonin for the treatment of spinal cord injuries. Neural Regeneration Research. (October 2018).
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