Melatonin as a Chronobiotic / Anticancer Agent: Cellular, Biochemical, and Molecular Mechanisms of Action and their Implications for Circadian-Based Cancer Therapy
Melatonin, as a new member of an expanding group of regulatory factors that control cell proliferation and loss, is the only known chronobiotic, hormonal regulator of neoplastic cell growth. At physiological circulating concentrations, this indoleamine is cytostatic and inhibits cancer cell proliferation in vitro via specific cell cycle effects. At pharmacological concentrations, melatonin exhibits cytotoxic activity in cancer cells. At both physiological and pharmacological concentrations, melatonin acts as a differentiating agent in some cancer cells and lowers their invasive and metastatic status through alterations in adhesion molecules and maintenance of gap junctional intercellular communication. In other cancer cell types, melatonin, either alone or in combination with other agents, induces apoptotic cell death. Biochemical and molecular mechanisms of melatonin's oncostatic action may include regulation of estrogen receptor expression and transactivation, calcium / calmodulin activity, protein kinase C activity, cytoskeletal architecture and function, intracellular redox status, melatonin receptor-mediated signal transduction cascades, and fatty acid transport and metabolism. A major mechanism mediating melatonin's circadian stage-dependent tumor growth inhibitory action is the suppression of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) / mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) activity. This occurs via melatonin receptor-mediated blockade of tumor linoleic acid uptake and its conversion to 13-hydroxyoctadecadienoic acid (13-HODE) which normally activates EGFR / MAPK mitogenic signaling. This represents a potentially unifying model for the chronobiological inhibitory regulation of cancer growth by melatonin in the maintenance of the host / cancer balance. It also provides the first biological explanation of melatonin-induced enhancement of the efficacy and reduced toxicity of chemo- and radiotherapy in cancer patients.