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Jonathan D Johnston and Debra J Skene

The isolation of melatonin was first reported in 1958. Since the demonstration that pineal melatonin synthesis reflects both daily and seasonal time, melatonin has become a key element of chronobiology research. In mammals, pineal melatonin is essential for transducing day-length information into seasonal physiological responses. Due to its lipophilic nature, melatonin is able to cross the placenta and is believed to regulate multiple aspects of perinatal physiology. The endogenous daily melatonin rhythm is also likely to play a role in the maintenance of synchrony between circadian clocks throughout the adult body. Pharmacological doses of melatonin are effective in resetting circadian rhythms if taken at an appropriate time of day, and can acutely regulate factors such as body temperature and alertness, especially when taken during the day. Despite the extensive literature on melatonin physiology, some key questions remain unanswered. In particular, the amplitude of melatonin rhythms has been recently associated with diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus but understanding of the physiological significance of melatonin rhythm amplitude remains poorly understood.