The present study was designed to explore the protective effects of melatonin and its analogs, 6-hydroxymelatonin and 8-methoxy-2-propionamidotetralin, on the survival of doxorubicin-treated mice and on doxorubicin-induced cardiac dysfunction, ultrastructural alterations, and apoptosis in mouse hearts. Whereas 60% of the mice treated with doxorubicin (25 mg/kg ip) died in 5 days, almost all the doxorubicin-treated mice survived when melatonin or 6-hydroxymelatonin (10 mg/l) was administered in their drinking water. Perfusion of mouse hearts with 5 microM doxorubicin for 60 min led to a 50% suppression of heart rate x left ventricular developed pressure and a 50% reduction of coronary flow. Exposure of hearts to 1 microM melatonin or 6-hydroxymelatonin reversed doxorubicin-induced cardiac dysfunction. 8-Methoxy-2-propionamidotetralin had no protective effects on animal survival and on in vitro cardiac function. Infusion of melatonin or 6-hydroxymelatonin (2.5 microg/h) significantly attenuated doxorubicin-induced cardiac dysfunction, ultrastructural alterations, and apoptosis in mouse hearts. Neither melatonin nor 6-hydroxymelatonin compromised the antitumor activity of doxorubicin in cultured PC-3 cells. These results suggest that melatonin protect against doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity without interfering with its antitumor effect.