Effects of melatonin on the behavioral and hormonal responses of red-sided garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) to exogenous corticosterone

Horm Behav. 2004 Dec;46(5):692-702. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2004.06.013.


We investigated possible interactions between melatonin and corticosterone in modulating the reproductive behavior of male red-sided garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) following spring emergence. We also examined whether melatonin's modulatory actions could be explained by its potential properties as a serotonin receptor antagonist. Exogenous corticosterone significantly reduced courtship behavior of male snakes in a dose-dependent manner. Melatonin also significantly reduced courtship behavior of male garter snakes. Pretreatment with melatonin before administering corticosterone treatments further suppressed courtship behavior of red-sided garter snakes. These results indicate additive inhibitory effects of melatonin and corticosterone in modulating reproductive behavior. Snakes receiving ketanserin, a serotonergic type 2A receptor antagonist, followed by corticosterone also showed reduced courtship behavior; this serotonin receptor antagonist followed by treatment with vehicle did not significantly influence courtship behavior of male snakes. Neither melatonin nor corticosterone treatments significantly influenced testosterone + 5-alpha-dihydrotestosterone concentrations of male garter snakes, supporting a direct effect of melatonin and corticosterone on courtship behavior that is independent of any effect on androgen concentrations. We propose that a serotonin system is involved in the modulation of male courtship behavior by melatonin and corticosterone. In addition, our data support the hypothesis that melatonin may function as a serotonin receptor antagonist. Further research is necessary to discern whether the actions of melatonin and corticosterone are converging on the same pathway or if their effects on different pathways are having additive inhibitory effects on courtship behavior.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Colubridae / physiology*
  • Corticosterone / pharmacology
  • Corticosterone / physiology*
  • Courtship
  • Dihydrotestosterone / blood
  • Ketanserin / pharmacology
  • Melatonin / physiology*
  • Receptors, Serotonin / drug effects
  • Serotonin Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Testosterone / blood*


  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin Antagonists
  • Dihydrotestosterone
  • Testosterone
  • Ketanserin
  • Melatonin
  • Corticosterone