Melatonin and circadian biology in human cardiovascular disease

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Diurnal rhythms influence cardiovascular physiology, i.e. heart rate and blood pressure, and they appear to also modulate the incidence of serious adverse cardiac events. Diurnal variations occur also at the molecular level including changes in gene expression in the heart and blood vessels. Moreover, the risk/benefit ratio of some therapeutic strategies and the concentration of circulating cardiovascular system biomarkers may also vary across the 24-hr light/dark cycle. Synchrony between external and internal diurnal rhythms and harmony among molecular rhythms within the cell are essential for normal organ biology. Diurnal variations in the responsiveness of the cardiovascular system to environmental stimuli are mediated by a complex interplay between extracellular (i.e. neurohumoral factors) and intracellular (i.e. specific genes that are differentially light/dark regulated) mechanisms. Neurohormones, which are particularly relevant to the cardiovascular system, such as melatonin, exhibit a diurnal variation and may play a role in the synchronization of molecular circadian clocks in the peripheral tissue and the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Moreover, mounting evidence reveals that the blood melatonin rhythm has a crucial role in several cardiovascular functions, including daily variations in blood pressure. Melatonin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, chronobiotic and, possibly, epigenetic regulatory functions. This article reviews current knowledge related to the biological role of melatonin and its circadian rhythm in cardiovascular disease.

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