A worldwide increase in the incidence of obesity indicates the unsuccessful battle against this disorder. Obesity and the associated health problems urgently require effective strategies of treatment. The new discovery that a substantial amount of functional brown adipose tissue (BAT) is retained in adult humans provides a potential target for treatment of human obesity. BAT is active metabolically and disposes of extra energy via generation of heat through uncoupling oxidative phosphorylation in mitochondria. The physiology of BAT is readily regulated by melatonin, which not only increases recruitment of brown adipocytes but also elevates their metabolic activity in mammals. It is speculated that the hypertrophic effect and functional activation of BAT induced by melatonin may likely apply to the human. Thus, melatonin, a naturally occurring substance with no reported toxicity, may serve as a novel approach for treatment of obesity. Conversely, because of the availability of artificial light sources, excessive light exposure after darkness onset in modern societies should be considered a potential contributory factor to human obesity as light at night dramatically reduces endogenous melatonin production. In the current article, the potential associations of melatonin, BAT, obesity and the medical implications are discussed.
© 2010 The Authors. obesity reviews © 2010 International Association for the Study of Obesity.