This brief review summarizes new findings related to the reported beneficial effects of melatonin on reproductive physiology beyond its now well-known role in determining the sexual status in both long-day and short-day seasonally breeding mammals. Of particular note are those reproductive processes that have been shown to benefit from the ability of melatonin to function in the reduction of oxidative stress. In the few species that have been tested, brightly colored secondary sexual characteristics that serve as a sexual attractant reportedly are enhanced by melatonin administration. This is of potential importance inasmuch as the brightness of ornamental pigmentation is also associated with animals that are of the highest genetic quality. Free radical damage is commonplace during pregnancy and has negative effects on the mother, placenta, and fetus. Because of its ability to readily pass through the placenta, melatonin easily protects the fetus from oxidative damage, as well as the maternal tissues and placenta. Examples of conditions in which oxidative and nitrosative stress can be extensive during pregnancy include preeclampsia and damage resulting from anoxia or hypoxia that is followed by reflow of oxygenated blood into the tissue. Given the uncommonly low toxicity of melatonin, clinical trials are warranted to document the protection by melatonin against pathophysiological states of the reproductive system in which free radical damage is known to occur. Finally, the beneficial effects of melatonin in improving the outcomes of in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer should be further tested and exploited. The information in this article has applicability to human and veterinary medicine.
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Vol. 81 • No. 3