Melatonin, the principal pineal gland hormone, exerts a direct antiproliferative effect on estrogen-responsive MCF-7 cells in culture. The purpose of the current study was to investigate the effects of melatonin on the invasion capacity of MCF-7 cells.

In vitro, melatonin at physiological doses (1 nm) reduced (P < 0.001) the invasiveness of tumoral cells measured in Falcon invasion chambers. Subphysiological (0.1 pm) and pharmacological concentrations (10 µm) of melatonin failed to inhibit cell invasion. Melatonin was also able to block 17β-estradiol-induced invasion (P < 0.001). Pretreatment of MCF-7 cells with 1 nm melatonin increased the response of tumoral cells to the anti-invasive effects of this indolamine. To explore possible mechanisms by which melatonin reduces invasiveness, we measured the attachment of MCF-7 cells to a basement membrane, the chemotactic response of the cells, and their type IV collagenolytic activity. The presence of melatonin (1 nm) in the culture medium significantly reduced the ability of MCF-7 cells to attach to the basement membrane; this effect was enhanced by pretreating the cells with the same indolamine (P < 0.001). Melatonin also counteracts the stimulatory effects of 17β-estradiol on cell adhesion (P < 0.001). The chemotactic response of MCF-7 cells also decreased in the presence of 1 nm melatonin, and this melatonin-induced reduction of cell migration was more effective on cells that were previously incubated for 5 days with melatonin than it was on nonpretreated cells (P < 0.001). The simultaneous addition of 17β-estradiol and melatonin resulted in a significantly lower chemotactic response than that of 17β-estradiol-treated cells (P < 0.001). However, type IV collagenolytic activity was not influenced by melatonin. Our results demonstrate that melatonin reduces the invasiveness of MCF-7 cells, causing a decrease in cell attachment and cell motility, probably by interacting with the estrogen-mediated mechanisms of MCF-7 cell invasiveness. In addition, we also studied the influence of melatonin on the expression of two cell surface adhesion molecules (E-cadherin and β1 integrin) and an intermediate filament protein (vimentin), the expression of which has been correlated with the relative invasive capacity of human breast cancer cells. The culture of tumor cells in the presence of melatonin (1 nm) increased the membrane staining for E-cadherin and β1 integrin as well as the number of E-cadherin and β1 integrin immunoreactive cells (P < 0.01). Neither control MCF-7 cells nor those treated with melatonin stained for vimentin.

Preliminary in vivo experiments carried out on ovariectomized athymic nude mice implanted with 17β-estradiol pellets and inoculated with 5 × 106 MCF-7 cells in the inguinal mammary fat pad suggest that melatonin could decrease the tumorigenicity of these tumor cells. However, these results need further confirmation.

Taken together, our results suggest that melatonin shifts MCF-7 human breast cancer cells to a lower invasive status by increasing the β1 integrin subunit and E-cadherin expression and promoting the differentiation of tumor cells. Finally, our study points out the existence of the anti-invasive actions of melatonin as a part of the oncostatic action of melatonin.


Supported by Grants PB92-0831 and PM97-0042 from the Spanish General Direction of Scientific and Technological Investigation (DGICYT) and the Marqués de Valdecilla Foundation 6/98.

This content is only available via PDF.