Intervertebral disk (IVD) degeneration, a complex pathological condition of varying origins, causes low back pain. Degenerative changes in IVD tissue affect the adjacent vertebral structure, resulting in a decreased vertebral trabecular width. It has been suggested that transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta(1)) may have a role in the repair of connective tissue, as it occurs in the IVD degeneration process. In this study, we investigated the effects of exogenous melatonin (MEL) administration on vertebral trabecular width, ligament thickness and TGF-beta(1) expression in degenerated IVD tissue. Fifteen adult male Swiss Albino rats were divided randomly into three groups; nonoperated control, operated degeneration, and MEL treatment groups. In the operated degeneration and MEL treatment groups, cuts were made parallel to the end plates in the posterior annulus fibrosus at the fifth and tenth vertebral segments of the tail to induce IVD degeneration. In each group, TGF-beta(1) immunoreactivity and morphometry of vertebral trabecular width and anterior and posterior ligament thickness were evaluated. Histologically, disorganisation and irregularity of collagen fibres was seen in the degenerated (operated) IVD. Increased TGF-beta(1) expression in multinuclear chondrocytes was also observed as was decreased vertebral trabecular width. Importantly, the reduction of trabecular width observed in the operated degenerated group was reversed after MEL administration (p<0.0001). Similarly, TGF-beta(1) expression in multinuclear chondrocytes was dramatically increased after exogenous MEL application. Thus, there was a regression in histopathological changes after MEL treatment, with disk appearances similar to those of the control group. Based on our findings. we suggest that MEL activates the recovery process in the degenerated IVD tissue, possibly by stimulating TGF-beta(1) activity. This is the first report investigating the involvement of the pineal hormone MEL in the repair of rat IVD. (C) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.