Melatonin effects on intercellular junctional communication in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells


Address reprint requests to Samuel Cos, Departamento de Fisiología y Farmacología, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Cantabria, Cardenal Herrera Oria s/n, 39011 Santander, Spain


Melatonin exerts a direct antiproliferative effect on estrogen-responsive MCF-7 cells in culture. Recently, the importance of the anti-invasive actions of melatonin as a part of the oncostatic action of this indolamine has been reported. Gap junctional intercellular communication is known to be involved in controlling cell proliferation and differentiation, and a decrease in intercellular junctional communication has been described in highly invasive mammary cancer cells. Because melatonin at physiological doses (1 nM) shifts MCF-7 cells to a lower invasive status, we postulate that melatonin could modulate the levels of gap junctional intercellular communication in these tumor cells. To test our hypothesis, we studied gap junctional intercellular communication in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells previously (7–8 days) treated, or not, with melatonin (10 μM or 1 nM). Using the scrape-loading assay dye-transfer technique to introduce 0.05% Lucifer yellow into cells, we measured the ability of the tumor cells to transfer dye to adjacent cells. Rhodamine dextran (0.05%) was used as a control dye to verify that dye-transfer occurs through intercellular junctions. The presence of melatonin (10 μM or 1 nM) in the culture medium significantly increased (P<0.01) the transfer of the dye to adjacent cells through gap junctions. This increase was greater at 10 μM melatonin, and averaged scan profiles of cells treated with melatonin 10 μM showed a statistically significant increase (P<0.01) in the integrated optical density values, and a broadening of the densitometric scan. These findings suggest that melatonin could exert its antitumor action, at least in part, by increasing regulatory signals that are passed between adjacent epithelial cells through intercellular junctions.