Melatonin protection from chronic, low-level ionizing radiation

Russel J. Reiter, Ahmet Korkmaz, Shuran Ma, Sergio Rosales-Corral, Dun Xian Tan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


In the current survey, we summarize the published literature which supports the use of melatonin, an endogenously produced molecule, as a protective agent against chronic, low-level ionizing radiation. Under in vitro conditions, melatonin uniformly was found to protect cellular DNA and plasmid super coiled DNA from ionizing radiation damage due to Cs 137 or X-radiation exposure. Likewise, in an in vivo/in vitro study in which humans were given melatonin orally and then their blood lymphocytes were collected and exposed to Cs 137 ionizing radiation, nuclear DNA from the cells of those individuals who consumed melatonin (and had elevated blood levels) was less damaged than that from control individuals. In in vivo studies as well, melatonin given to animals prevented DNA and lipid damage (including limiting membrane rigidity) and reduced the percentage of animals that died when they had been exposed to Cs 137 or Co 60 radiation. Melatonin's ability to protect macromolecules from the damage inflicted by ionizing radiation likely stems from its high efficacy as a direct free radical scavenger and possibly also due to its ability to stimulate antioxidative enzymes. Melatonin is readily absorbed when taken orally or via any other route. Melatonin's ease of self administration and its virtual absence of toxicity or side effects, even when consumed over very long periods of time, are essential when large populations are exposed to lingering radioactive contamination such as occurs as a result of an inadvertent nuclear accident, an intentional nuclear explosion or the detonation of a radiological dispersion device, i.e., a " dirty" bomb.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-14
Number of pages8
JournalMutation Research - Reviews in Mutation Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Chronic radiation exposure
  • Lingering radioactivity
  • Melatonin
  • Radioisotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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