Effect of shift work on the night-time secretory patterns of melatonin, prolactin, cortisol and testosterone

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Summary

In a study of the internal desynchronization of circadian rhythms in 12 shift workers, 4 of them, aged 25–34 years, agreed to be sampled every 2 h during their night shift (0000 hours to 0800 hours). They were oil refinery operators with a fast rotating shift system (every 3–4 days). We found marked changes in the secretory profiles of melatonin, prolactin and testosterone. Melatonin had higher peak-values resulting in a four-times higher amplitude than in controls. With respect to prolactin and testosterone, peak and trough times were erratic and the serum concentrations were significantly decreased in shift workers. Serum cortisol presented a decreased rhythm amplitude together with higher concentrations at 0000 hours in shift workers. This study clearly shows that fast rotating shift-work modifies peak or trough values and rhythm amplitudes of melatonin, prolactin, testosterone and cortisol without any apparent phase shift of these hormones. Whether the large rhythm amplitude of melatonin may be considered as a marker of tolerance to shift work, as reported for body temperature and hand grip strength, since it would help the subjects to maintain their internal synchronization, needs further investigation.