Selective estrogen enzyme modulator actions of melatonin in human breast cancer cells


Address reprint requests to Emilio J. Sanchez-Barcelo, Departamento de Fisiología y Farmacología, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Cantabria, Cardenal Herrera Oria s/n, 39011 Santander, Spain.


Abstract:  Melatonin exerts oncostatic effects on different kinds of neoplasias, especially on estrogen-dependent mammary tumors. Current knowledge about the mechanisms by which melatonin inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells point to an interaction of melatonin with estrogen-responsive pathways. The intratumoral production of estrogens in breast carcinoma tissue plays a pivotal role in the proliferation of mammary tumoral cells and its blockade is one of the main objectives of the treatment of breast cancer. The aim of the present work is centered on the study of the role of melatonin in the control of some enzymes involved in the formation and transformation of estrogens in human breast cancer cells. The present study demonstrates that melatonin, at physiologic concentrations, modulates the synthesis and transformation of biologically active estrogens in MCF-7 cells, through the inhibition of sulfatase (STS) and 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 (17β-HSD1) activity and expression, enzymes involved in the estradiol formation in breast cancer cells. Physiologic concentrations of melatonin also stimulate the activity and expression of estrogen sulfotransferase (EST), the enzyme responsible for the formation of the biologically inactive estrogen sulfates. The level of EST mRNA steady-state of cells treated with melatonin was three times higher than that in control cells. These findings which document that melatonin has an inhibitory effect on STS and 17β-HSD1 and a stimulatory effect on EST, in combination with its previously described antiaromatase effect, can open up new and interesting possibilities in clinical applications of melatonin in breast cancer.