Oxidative stress of the newborn in the pre- and postnatal period and the clinical utility of melatonin

J Pineal Res. 2009 Mar;46(2):128-39. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-079X.2008.00649.x. Epub 2008 Nov 19.


Newborns, and especially those delivered preterm, are probably more prone to oxidative stress than individuals later in life. Also during pregnancy, increased oxygen demand augments the rate of production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and women, even with normal pregnancies, experience elevated oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation compared with nonpregnant women. Also, there appears to be an increase in ROS generation in the placenta of pre-eclamptic women. In comparison with healthy adults, newborn infants have lower levels of plasma antioxidants such as vitamin E, beta-carotene, and sulphydryl groups, lower levels of plasma metal binding proteins including ceruloplasmin and transferrin, and reduced activity of erythrocyte superoxide dismutase. This review summarizes conditions of newborns where there is elevated oxidative stress. Included in this group of conditions is asphyxia, respiratory distress syndrome and sepsis and the review also summarizes the literature related to clinical trials of antioxidant therapies and of melatonin, a highly effective antioxidant and free radical scavenger. The authors document there is general agreement that short-term melatonin therapy may be highly effective and that it has a remarkably benign safety profile, even when neonates are treated with pharmacological doses. Significant complications with long-term melatonin therapy in children and adults also have not been reported. None of the animal studies of maternal melatonin treatment or in postnatal life have shown any treatment-related side effects. The authors conclude that treatment with melatonin might result in a wide range of health benefits, improved quality of life and reduced healthcare costs and may help reduce complications in the neonatal period.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asphyxia Neonatorum / drug therapy
  • Asphyxia Neonatorum / metabolism
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Female
  • Free Radical Scavengers / adverse effects
  • Free Radical Scavengers / metabolism
  • Free Radical Scavengers / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Melatonin / adverse effects
  • Melatonin / metabolism
  • Melatonin / therapeutic use*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Placenta / metabolism
  • Pre-Eclampsia / drug therapy
  • Pre-Eclampsia / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / metabolism
  • Sepsis / drug therapy
  • Sepsis / metabolism


  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Melatonin