Simultaneous modulation of COX-2, p300, Akt, and Apaf-1 signaling by melatonin to inhibit proliferation and induce apoptosis in breast cancer cells


Address reprint requests to Wuguo Deng or Wenlin Huang, Sun Yat-sen University Cancer Center, 651 Dongfeng East Road, Guangzhou 510060, China.


Abstract:  Melatonin exhibits anti-inflammatory and anticancer effects and could be a chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic agent against cancers, but the precise mechanisms involved remain largely unresolved. In this study, we evaluated the mechanism of action of melatonin in human MDA-MB-361 breast cancer cells. Melatonin at pharmacological concentrations (10−3 m) significantly suppressed cell proliferation and induced apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner. The observed suppression of proliferation was accompanied by the melatonin-mediated inhibition of COX-2, p300, and NF-κB signaling. Melatonin significantly inhibited COX-2 expression and prostaglandin E(2) (PGE2) production, abrogated p300 histone acetyltransferase activity and p300-mediated NF-κB acetylation, thereby blocking NF-κB binding and p300 recruitment to COX-2 promoter. Pretreatment with a COX-2- or p300-selective inhibitor abrogated the melatonin-induced inhibition of cell proliferation, whereas PGE2 treatment or COX-2 transfection reversed the inhibition by melatonin. Moreover, melatonin markedly inhibited phosphorylation of PI3K, Akt, PRAS40, and GSK-3 proteins, thereby inactivating the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway. Pretreatment with a PI3K- or an Akt-selective inhibitor or an Akt-specific siRNA blocked the melatonin-mediated inhibition of cell proliferation. Conversely, gene delivery of a constitutively active Akt effectively reversed the inhibition by melatonin. Furthermore, melatonin induced Apaf-1 expression, triggered cytochrome C release, and stimulated caspase-3 and caspase-9 activities and cleavage, leading to an activation of the Apaf-1-dependent apoptotic pathway. Pretreatment with an Apaf-1-specific siRNA effectively attenuated the melatonin-induced apoptosis. These results therefore indicate that melatonin inhibits cell proliferation and induces apoptosis in MDA-MB-361 breast cancer cells in vitro by simultaneously suppressing the COX-2/PGE2, p300/NF-κB, and PI3K/Akt/signaling and activating the Apaf-1/caspase-dependent apoptotic pathway.