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Melatonin attenuates the short-term consequences of brain ischemia in several animal models. However, there is scant information regarding its efficacy for improving the long-term outcome. To further address that issue, we subjected gerbils to 5-min bilateral carotid occlusion. Some gerbils received acute peri-surgical administration of melatonin while others received continuous melatonin in their water. The gerbils' brains were histologically assessed at 20 wk postsurgery. Chronic but not acute melatonin attenuated ischemia-induced hyperactivity at 3 days postsurgery. Twenty weeks postsurgery, the ischemic gerbils showed varying degrees of bilateral loss of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal cells and elevation of glial fibrillary acidic protein immunoreactivity there. Both the cell loss and the immunoreactivity were markedly asymmetrical for some gerbils. Neither acute nor chronic melatonin altered this pattern of CA1 cell loss and glial immunoreactivity increase. Ischemia increased the number of CA1 cells that were immunoreactive for doublecortin (DCX), a marker for newborn neurons. This increase in CA1 DCX expression was not affected by either melatonin treatment. However, both acute and chronic melatonin reduced the number of DCX immunoreactive neurons in the dentate gyrus. Thus, neither acute nor chronic melatonin altered the long-term neural outcome of forebrain ischemia, although chronic administration seemed to attenuate the short-term behavioral effect. It is suggested that persistently high brain levels of melatonin may be essential for long-term neuroprotection against ischemia. The possibility that melatonin may modulate hippocampal neurogenesis merits further exploration both in normal animals and in models of brain insult.