Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science and the RIKEN BioResource Research Center in Japan, along with collaborators at the State University of New York at Buffalo, have created a mouse model that allows the study of naturally occurring melatonin. Published in the Journal of Pineal Research, these first experiments using the new mice showed that natural melatonin was linked to a pre-hibernation state that allows mice to slow down their metabolism and survive when food is scarce, or temperatures are cold.
Melatonin is called “the hormone of darkness” because it’s released by the brain in the dark, which usually means at night. It tells the body when it’s dark outside so that the body can switch to ‘night mode’. Although other hormones are easily studied in the laboratory, it has been difficult to study how the body reacts to melatonin because laboratory mice don’t actually have any. To solve this problem, the researchers crossed laboratory mice with wild mice—which do produce melatonin—and bred new lab mice that can produce melatonin innately. This was a lot harder than it sounds and took over 10 mouse generations.