In the present study, we examined the molecular mechanism by which homocysteine causes neuronal cell apoptosis. We further investigated the mechanisms of melatonin's ability to reduce homocysteine-induced apoptosis. Consistent with its antioxidant properties, melatonin reduced homocysteine-induced lipid peroxidation and stimulated glutathione peroxidase enzyme activity in hippocampus of rats with hyperhomocysteinemia. Furthermore, melatonin treatment diminished cytochrome c release from mitochondria and reduced caspase 3 and caspase 9 activation induced by hyperhomocysteinemia. Chronic hyperhomocysteinemia also led to poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage and subsequently DNA fragmentation. Treatment with melatonin markedly inhibited poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage and reduced DNA damage. Hyperhomocysteinemia caused an elevation of pro-apoptotic Bax levels while reducing antiapoptotic protein, Bcl-2, levels. Daily administration of melatonin up-regulated Bcl-2 and down-regulated Bax levels. We propose that, in addition to its antioxidant properties, melatonin has the ability to protect neuronal cells against apoptosis mediated homocysteine neurotoxicity by modulating apoptosis-regulatory proteins in the hippocampus of rats. (c) 2005 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.