Melatonin rescues cardiovascular dysfunction during hypoxic development in the chick embryo

J Pineal Res. 2016 Jan;60(1):16-26. doi: 10.1111/jpi.12283. Epub 2015 Oct 26.


There is a search for rescue therapy against fetal origins of cardiovascular disease in pregnancy complicated by chronic fetal hypoxia, particularly following clinical diagnosis of fetal growth restriction (FGR). Melatonin protects the placenta in adverse pregnancy; however, whether melatonin protects the fetal heart and vasculature in hypoxic pregnancy independent of effects on the placenta is unknown. Whether melatonin can rescue fetal cardiovascular dysfunction when treatment commences following FGR diagnosis is also unknown. We isolated the effects of melatonin on the developing cardiovascular system of the chick embryo during hypoxic incubation. We tested the hypothesis that melatonin directly protects the fetal cardiovascular system in adverse development and that it can rescue dysfunction following FGR diagnosis. Chick embryos were incubated under normoxia or hypoxia (14% O2) from day 1 ± melatonin treatment (1 mg/kg/day) from day 13 of incubation (term ~21 days). Melatonin in hypoxic chick embryos rescued cardiac systolic dysfunction, impaired cardiac contractility and relaxability, increased cardiac sympathetic dominance, and endothelial dysfunction in peripheral circulations. The mechanisms involved included reduced oxidative stress, enhanced antioxidant capacity and restored vascular endothelial growth factor expression, and NO bioavailability. Melatonin treatment of the chick embryo starting at day 13 of incubation, equivalent to ca. 25 wk of gestation in human pregnancy, rescues early origins of cardiovascular dysfunction during hypoxic development. Melatonin may be a suitable antioxidant candidate for translation to human therapy to protect the fetal cardiovascular system in adverse pregnancy.

Keywords: antioxidant; cardiovascular disease; melatonin; prevention of fetal programming.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chick Embryo
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / drug therapy
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / pharmacology*
  • Myocardial Contraction / drug effects*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / drug therapy*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / embryology*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy


  • Melatonin