Impact of oral melatonin on the electroretinogram cone response

Anne-Marie Gagné, Konstantin V Danilenko, Serge G Rosolen, Marc Hébert


Background: In the eye, melatonin plays a role in promoting light sensitivity at night and modulating many aspects of circadian retinal physiology. It is also an inhibitor of retinal dopamine, which is a promoter of day vision through the cone system. Consequently, it is possible that oral melatonin (an inhibitor of retinal dopamine) taken to alleviate circadian disorders may affect cone functioning. Our aim was to assess the impact of melatonin on the cone response of the human retina using electroretinography (ERG).

Methods: Twelve healthy participants aged between 18 to 52 years old were submitted to a placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover, and counterbalanced-order design. The subjects were tested on 2 sessions beginning first with a baseline ERG, followed by the administration of the placebo or melatonin condition and then, 30 min later, a second ERG to test the effect.

Results: Following oral melatonin administration, a significant decrease of about 8% of the cone maximal response was observed (mean 6.9 μV ± SEM 2.0; P = 0.0065) along with a prolonged bwave implicit time of 0.4 ms ± 0.1, 50 minutes after ingestion.

Conclusion: Oral melatonin appears to reach the eye through the circulation. When it is administered at a time of day when it is not usually present, melatonin appears to reduce input to retinal cones. We believe that the impact of melatonin on retinal function should be taken into consideration when used without supervision in chronic self-medication for sleep or circadian disorder treatment.

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How to cite: Gagné, A, Danilenko, K.V., Rosolen, S.G. and Hébert, M 2009. Impact of oral melatonin on the electroretinogram cone response. Journal of Circadian Rhythms 7:14, DOI:

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Published on 19 November 2009.

ISSN: 1740-3391 | Published by Ubiquity Press | Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.