Alfred J. Lewy
Roles of Melatonin in Humans and other Eukaryotes
My current research interest is melatonin. This has been my research interest for 20 year, from when I first developed the GCMS assay for melatonin with Dr. S. Markey. I then went on to show that bright light could regulate melatonin production in humans, and that people who become depressed in the winter could be treated with bright light. My interests then turned to light treatment of circadian phase disorders, including jet lag, shift work, and advanced and delayed sleep phase syndrome. I am now treating these disorders with physiological doses of melatonin at critical times of the day.
More recently, my colleague Robert Sack and I have become interested in totally blind people. These people have 24.5 hour rhythms and drift later each day. We have discovered that a daily dose of melatonin can entrain them to 24 hours and treat their recurrent sleep disorder.
Most recently, my colleague Jonathan Emens and I have extended my findings in seasonal affective disorder to non-seasonal depression. In both cases, the more delayed a patient's melatonin rhythm relative to the sleep cycle, the worse the symptoms. This may be the first biomarker in psychiatry that correlates with symptom severity in the same patients before and after treatment (with low-dose melatonin) and may become one of the first clinically useful lab tests in psychiatry.