Inconsistent Suppression of Nocturnal Pineal Melatonin Synthesis and Serum Melatonin Levels in Rats Exposed to Pulsed DC Magnetic Fields

Russel J. Reiter, Dun Xian Tan, Burkhard Poeggeler, Robert Kavet

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The purpose of these experiments was to determine whether the exposure of rats at night to pulsed DC magnetic fields (MF) would influence the nocturnal production and secretion of melatonin, as indicated by pineal N-acetyltransferase (NAT) activity (the rate limiting enzyme in melatonin production) and pineal and serum melatonin levels. By using a computer-driven exposure system, 15 experiments were conducted. MF exposure onset was always during the night, with the duration of exposure varying from 15 to 120 min. A variety of field strengths, ranging from 50 to 500 μT (0.5 to 5.0 G) were used with the bulk of the studies being conducted using a 100 μT (1.0 G) field. During the interval of DC MF exposure, the field was turned on and off at 1-s intervals with a rise/fall time constant of 5 ms. Because the studies were performed during the night, all procedures were carried out under weak red light (intensity of <5 μW/cm2). At the conclusion of each study, a blood sample and the pineal gland were collected for analysis of serum melatonin titers and pineal NAT and melatonin levels. The outcome of individual studies varied. Of the 23 cases in which pineal NAT activity, pineal melatonin, and serum melatonin levels were measured, the following results were obtained; in 5 cases (21.7%) pineal NAT activity was depressed, in 2 cases (8.7%) studies pineal melatonin levels were lowered, and in 10 cases (43.5%) serum melatonin concentrations were reduced. Never was there a measured rise in any of the end points that were considered in this study. The magnitudes of the reductions were not correlated with field strength (i.e., no dose-response relationships were apparent), and likewise the reductions could not be correlated with the season of the year (experiments conducted at 12-month intervals under identical exposure conditions yielded different results). Duration of exposure also seemed not to be a factor in the degree of melatonin suppression. The inconsistency of the results does not permit the conclusion that pineal melatonin production or release are routinely influenced by pulsed DC MF exposure. In the current series of studies, a suppression of serum melatonin sometimes occurred in the absence of any apparent change in the synthesis of this indoleamine within the pineal gland (no alteration in either pineal NAT activity or pineal melatonin levels). Because melatonin is a direct free radical scavenger, the drop in serum melatonin could theoretically be explained by an increased uptake of melatonin by tissues that were experiencing augmented levels of free radicals as a consequence of MF exposure. This hypothetical possibly requires additional experimental documentation. Bioelectromagnetics 19:318-329, 1998.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)318-329
Number of pages12
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998


  • DC magnetic field exposure
  • Melatonin
  • Pineal gland
  • Pulsed magnetic fields
  • Rat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Physiology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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