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Toxicol Sci. 1999 Aug;50(2):271-9.

Maternal and developmental toxicity evaluation of melatonin administered orally to pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats.

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  • 1Reproductive Toxicology Group, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709, USA.


Melatonin (MEL) is a widely used, over-the-counter sleep aid, and it has putative contraceptive, antioxidant, antiaging, and anticancer effects. The developmental toxicity potential for repeated oral doses of MEL had not previously been evaluated. In the present studies, time-mated, Sprague-Dawley-derived (CD) rats were administered MEL or vehicle by gavage on gestation days (gd) 6-19. MEL-treated groups received 1-, 10-, 100-, 150-, or 200-mg/kg body weight/day in the screening study (15 rats/group), and 50, 100, or 200 mg/kg/day in the definitive study (25 rats/group). In both studies, maternal food/water consumption, body weight, and clinical signs were monitored at regular intervals throughout gestation. At termination (gd 20, both studies), maternal liver and gravid uterine weights, number of ovarian corpora lutea, conceptus survival, fetal sex, and fetal body weight were evaluated. Fetal morphological examination included external structures (both studies) as well as visceral and skeletal structures (definitive study). In the screening study, maternal serum levels of 17beta-estradiol, progesterone, prolactin, and luteinizing hormone were determined by radioimmunoassay, and mammary tissue was fixed, stained, and evaluated for percent glandular area within the fat pad. No maternal morbidity/mortality was found in either study. In the screening study, aversion to treatment (> or =100 mg/kg/day) and reduced maternal weight gain (> or =150 mg/kg/day) were noted, but reproductive/endocrine parameters and fetal development were not affected. In the definitive study, aversion to treatment was noted at > or =50 mg/kg/day, and mild sedation, reduced maternal food intake, and reduced body weight gain were found during initial treatment with 200 mg/kg/day. MEL had no effect on prenatal survival, fetal body weight, or incidences of fetal malformations/variations. Thus, in the definitive study, the maternal toxicity NOAEL and LOAEL were 100 and 200 mg/kg/day, respectively, and the developmental toxicity NOAEL was > or =200 mg/kg/day.

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