Melatonin improves brain function in a model of chronic Gulf War Illness with modulation of oxidative stress, NLRP3 inflammasomes, and BDNF-ERK-CREB pathway in the hippocampus. Academic Article uri icon


  • Persistent cognitive and mood dysfunction is the primary CNS symptom in veterans afflicted with Gulf War Illness (GWI). This study investigated the efficacy of melatonin (MEL) for improving cognitive and mood function with antioxidant, antiinflammatory, and pro-cognitive effects in a rat model of chronic GWI. Six months after exposure to GWI-related chemicals and stress, rats were treated with vehicle or MEL (5, 10, 20, 40, and 80mg/kg) for eight weeks. Behavioral tests revealed cognitive and mood dysfunction in GWI rats receiving vehicle, which were associated with elevated oxidative stress, reduced NRF2, catalase and mitochondrial complex proteins, astrocyte hypertrophy, activated microglia with NLRP3 inflammasomes, elevated proinflammatory cytokines, waned neurogenesis, and synapse loss in the hippocampus. MEL at 10mg/kg alleviated simple and associative recognition memory dysfunction and anhedonia, along with reduced oxidative stress, enhanced glutathione and complex III, and reduced NLRP3 inflammasomes, IL-18, TNF-, and IFN-. MEL at 20mg/kg also normalized NRF2 and catalase and increased microglial ramification. MEL at 40mg/kg, in addition, reduced astrocyte hypertrophy, activated microglia, NF-kB-NLRP3-caspase-1 signaling, IL-1, MCP-1, and MIP-1. Moreover, MEL at 80mg/kg activated the BDNF-ERK-CREB signaling pathway, enhanced neurogenesis and diminished synapse loss in the hippocampus, and improved a more complex hippocampus-dependent cognitive function. Thus, MEL therapy is efficacious for improving cognitive and mood function in a rat model of chronic GWI, and MEL's effect was dose-dependent. The study provides the first evidence of MEL's promise for alleviating neuroinflammation and cognitive and mood impairments in veterans with chronic GWI.

published proceedings

  • Redox Biol

altmetric score

  • 1.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Madhu, L. N., Kodali, M., Attaluri, S., Shuai, B., Melissari, L., Rao, X., & Shetty, A. K.

citation count

  • 16

complete list of authors

  • Madhu, Leelavathi N||Kodali, Maheedhar||Attaluri, Sahithi||Shuai, Bing||Melissari, Laila||Rao, Xiaolan||Shetty, Ashok K

publication date

  • January 2021