Date of Thesis



Disturbances in melatonin - the neurohormone that signals environmental darkness as part of the circadian circuit of mammals - have been implicated in various psychopathologies in humans. At present, experimental evidence linking prenatal melatonin signaling to adult physiology, behavior, and gene expression is lacking. We hypothesized that administration of melatonin (5 mg/kg) or the melatonin receptor antagonist luzindole (5 mg/kg) to rats in utero would permanently alter the circadian circuit to produce differential growth, adult behavior, and hippocampal gene expressionin the male rat. Prenatal treatment was found to increase growth in melatonin-treated animals. In addition, subjects exposed to melatonin prenatally displayed increased rearing in the open field test and an increased right turn preference in the elevated plusmaze. Rats administered luzindole prenatally, however, displayed greater freezing and grooming behavior in the open field test and improved learning in the Morris water maze. Analysis of relative adult hippocampal gene expression with RT-PCR revealed increasedexpression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) with a trend toward increased expression of melatonin 1A (MEL1A) receptors in melatonin-exposed animals whereas overall prenatal treatment had a significant effect on microtubule-associated protein 2(MAP2) expression. Our data support the conclusion that the manipulation of maternal melatonin levels alters brain development and leads to physiological and behavioral abnormalities in adult offspring. We designate the term circadioneuroendocrine (CNE)axis and propose the CNE-axis hypothesis of psychopathology.


Melatonin, Psychopathology, Circadian rhythms, Hippocampus

Access Type

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Kathleen Creed Page