The effects of melatonin therapy on pregnancy outcomes in older mice

Older women and birthing people are at higher risk of pregnancy complications, including stillbirth and having babies that do not grow properly in the womb. Our researchers are finding out whether melatonin therapy improves pregnancy outcomes in older mice and hope that it could eventually be used as a preventative treatment for pregnant people over 40.
  • Authors list

    Jessica Dalton-O’Reilly, Dr Mark Dilworth, Dr Michelle Desforges, Dr Susan Greenwood, Professor Alexander Heazell

    Start date: 2021
    End date: 2024

  • Research centre

  • Research status

    Ongoing projects

Why do we need this research?

In the UK, 1 in 5 women who give birth are over 35, and 1 in 25 are over 40. Women and birthing people over 35 are at higher risk of stillbirth or of having babies that do not grow properly in the womb, and these complications are even more likely in pregnant people over 40.

We know that placentas from older women age faster than those from younger women. Placental cells are also under more stress; they are less able to repair damage and show signs of inflammation. We think that these factors might stop the placenta working properly, making it more difficult for the baby to get the oxygen and nutrients that it needs.

Scientists think that melatonin – an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory hormone that normally plays a part in controlling our sleep patterns – might help improve pregnancy outcomes for older women and birthing people, and our researchers want to find out more.

What’s happening in this project?

In this project, Tommy’s researchers have been carrying out experiments in the lab to find out whether melatonin treatment can safely improve outcomes in older pregnant mice as well as young, control mice. The mice were given either melatonin or a placebo in the second half of pregnancy, but unfortunately, melatonin treatment had no effect on the number of pups the mice had, the size of their placentas or the weight of their pups. The team are now checking whether melatonin treatment made the placentas work better, even though pregnancy outcomes were not improved. If this is the case, the team will carry out more experiments to see if pregnancy outcomes are improved if melatonin is given earlier in pregnancy or at a different dose.

What difference will this project make?

If this study does eventually show that melatonin treatment in pregnancy reduces the number of older mice who have stillbirths or pups that do not grow as they should, then it is possible that melatonin could also be used to improve pregnancy outcomes for older women and birthing people. Our researchers hope that this project could provide them with the foundations needed to begin a clinical trial of melatonin therapy in pregnant women over 40.