Regulation of vascular endothelial growth factor by melatonin in human breast cancer cells


Address reprint request to Dr. Samuel Cos, Departamento de Fisiología y Farmacología, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Cantabria, Cardenal Herrera Oria s/n, 39011 Santander, Spain. E-mail:


Melatonin exerts oncostatic effects on breast cancer by interfering with the estrogen-signaling pathways. Melatonin reduces estrogen biosynthesis in human breast cancer cells, surrounding fibroblasts and peritumoral endothelial cells by regulating cytokines that influence tumor microenvironment. This hormone also exerts antiangiogenic activity in tumoral tissue. In this work, our objective was to study the role of melatonin on the regulation of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in breast cancer cells. To accomplish this, we cocultured human breast cancer cells (MCF-7) with human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs). VEGF added to the cultures stimulated the proliferation of HUVECs and melatonin (1 mm) counteracted this effect. Melatonin reduced VEGF production and VEGF mRNA expression in MCF-7 cells. MCF-7 cells cocultured with HUVECs stimulated the endothelial cells proliferation and increased VEGF levels in the culture media. Melatonin counteracted both stimulatory effects on HUVECs proliferation and on VEGF protein levels in the coculture media. Conditioned media from MCF-7 cells increased HUVECs proliferation, and this effect was significantly counteracted by anti-VEGF and 1 mm melatonin. All these findings suggest that melatonin may play a role in the paracrine interactions between malignant epithelial cells and proximal endothelial cells through a downregulatory action on VEGF expression in human breast cancer cells, which decrease the levels of VEGF around endothelial cells. Lower levels of VEGF could be important in reducing the number of estrogen-producing cells proximal to malignant cells as well as decreasing tumoral angiogenesis.