The role of melatonin in glaucoma: implications concerning pathophysiological relevance and therapeutic potential

J Pineal Res. 2011 Jan;50(1):1-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-079X.2010.00816.x. Epub 2010 Nov 15.


Glaucoma is a frequent ophthalmologic condition leading to chronic progressive optic neuropathy, which can result in visual impairment and blindness. In addition, glaucoma is associated with a dysregulation of circadian rhythms, as well as with a high incidence of sleep disorders, depression, and anxiety. However, because of their high comorbidity in older age, these conditions have not received much scientific attention and are often undertreated. In the current paper, we review the available literature on the role of melatonergic mechanisms in glaucoma, regulation of circadian rhythms, and depression. The literature is presented as a narrative review, providing an overview on the most important and clinically relevant publications. Recently, there has been evidence for a progressive loss of intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGC) because of oxidative stress in glaucoma. As ipRGC are responsible for the photic transduction to the circadian system and subsequent melatonin secretion, and melatonin is involved in the pathophysiology of circadian desynchronization, sleep disorder, and depression, an impairment of photo-dependent melatonergic signaling may be a common pathway connecting glaucoma with these comorbidities. This fact, as well as the proven retinal neuroprotective role of melatonin, suggests that melatonergic drugs provide a potentially promising treatment strategy supplementing the management of intraocular pressure by pharmacological and surgical measures. Additionally, multidisciplinary treatment focusing on depression and normalization of circadian rhythms might be beneficial for glaucoma patients. Furthermore, glaucoma might be a useful model for studying the pathophysiological interactions between the melatonergic, circadian, and mood systems.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Glaucoma / metabolism*
  • Glaucoma / physiopathology
  • Glaucoma / therapy
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / metabolism


  • Melatonin