Open Access Open Badges Research article

Melatonin enhances DNA repair capacity possibly by affecting genes involved in DNA damage responsive pathways

Ran Liu12, Alan Fu2, Aaron E Hoffman3, Tongzhang Zheng2 and Yong Zhu2*

Author Affiliations

1 Key Laboratory of Environmental Medicine Engineering, Ministry of Education, School of Public Health, Southeast University, Nanjing, 210009, China

2 Department of Environmental Health and Sciences, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, Connecticut, CT, 06520, USA

3 Department of Epidemiology, Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and Tulane Cancer Center, New Orleans, LA, 70112, USA

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BMC Cell Biology 2013, 14:1  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-14-1

Published: 7 January 2013



Melatonin, a hormone-like substance involved in the regulation of the circadian rhythm, has been demonstrated to protect cells against oxidative DNA damage and to inhibit tumorigenesis.


In the current study, we investigated the effect of melatonin on DNA strand breaks using the alkaline DNA comet assay in breast cancer (MCF-7) and colon cancer (HCT-15) cell lines. Our results demonstrated that cells pretreated with melatonin had significantly shorter Olive tail moments compared to non-melatonin treated cells upon mutagen (methyl methanesulfonate, MMS) exposure, indicating an increased DNA repair capacity after melatonin treatment. We further examined the genome-wide gene expression in melatonin pretreated MCF-7 cells upon carcinogen exposure and detected altered expression of many genes involved in multiple DNA damage responsive pathways. Genes exhibiting altered expression were further analyzed for functional interrelatedness using network- and pathway-based bioinformatics analysis. The top functional network was defined as having relevance for “DNA Replication, Recombination, and Repair, Gene Expression, [and] Cancer”.


These findings suggest that melatonin may enhance DNA repair capacity by affecting several key genes involved in DNA damage responsive pathways.

Melatonin; DNA repair; Comet assay; Genome-wide expression; Network analysis