Early-life sleep deprivation (ESD) is a serious condition with severe cognitive sequelae. Considering hippocampus plays an essential role in cognitive regulation, the present study aims to determine whether melatonin, a neuroendocrine beard with significant anti-oxidative activity, would greatly depress the hippocampal oxidative stress, improves the molecular machinery, and consequently exerts the neuro-protective effects following ESD. Male weanling Wistar rats (postnatal day 21) were subjected to ESD for three weeks. During this period, the animals were administered normal saline or melatonin (10 mg/kg) via intraperitoneal injection between 09:00 and 09:30 daily. After three cycles of ESD, the animals were kept under normal sleep/wake cycle until they reached adulthood and were sacrificed. The results indicated that ESD causes long-term effects, such as impairment of ionic distribution, interruption of the expressions of neurotransmitters and receptors, decreases in the levels of several antioxidant enzymes, and impairment of several signaling pathways, which contribute to neuronal death in hippocampal regions. Melatonin administration during ESD prevented these effects. Quantitative evaluation of cells also revealed a higher number of neurons in the melatonin-treated animals when compared with the saline-treated animals. As the hippocampus is critical to cognitive activity, preserving or even improving the hippocampal molecular machinery by melatonin during ESD not only helps us to better understand the underlying mechanisms of ESD-induced neuronal dysfunction, but also the therapeutic use of melatonin to counteract ESD-induced neuronal deficiency.
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