Institution: Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pennsylvania
Abstract: Melatonin, an endogenous hormone that may regulate circadian rhythms by modulating cholinergic activity, is increasing in popular use as a natural treatment for sleep disorders. However, the effects of melatonin on the human heart are not well characterized, and the consequences of combining alcohol with melatonin are unknown. The myogenic heart of the water flea Daphnia magna (D. magna) is regulated by inhibitory cholinergic neurons that modulate cardiac function, including heart rate. D. magna is a useful model organism for cardiovascular function, due to its physical transparency and susceptibility to cardioactive drugs known to affect the human heart. In this study, the effects of immersion in 10 mg/L melatonin and 5% ethanol on the heart rate of D. magna were quantified. Two-hour exposure to melatonin caused a significant decrease in heart rate, from 228 ± 2 bpm to 167 ± 8 bpm. Six-minute immersion in ethanol also significantly depressed the heart rate to 176 ± 10 bpm. Pretreatment with melatonin prior to the addition of ethanol resulted in a greater decrease in heart rate (89 ± 7 bpm) than ethanol or melatonin alone. These findings indicate that melatonin and alcohol may combine to cause a greater depressive effect on cardiac function.