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Open Access Research

Impact of oral melatonin on the electroretinogram cone response

Anne-Marie Gagné1, Konstantin V Danilenko2, Serge G Rosolen34 and Marc Hébert1*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre de Recherche Université Laval Robert-Giffard, Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval, Québec, Canada

2 Institute of Internal Medicine, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, Novosibirsk, Russia

3 Centre de Recherche - Institut de la Vision UMR S968, INSERM-UPMC Paris 6, Paris, France

4 Clinique Vétérinaire Voltaire, Asnières, France

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Journal of Circadian Rhythms 2009, 7:14  doi:10.1186/1740-3391-7-14

Published: 19 November 2009



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).


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.


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 b-wave implicit time of 0.4 ms ± 0.1, 50 minutes after ingestion.


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.