In this article we review the state of the art on the role of the pineal gland and melatonin in mammary cancer tumorigenesis in vivo as well as in vitro. The former hypothesis of a possible role of the pineal gland in mammary cancer development was based on the evidence that the pineal, via its main secretory product, melatonin, downregulates some of the pituitary and gonadal hormones which control mammary gland development and are also responsible for the growth of hormone-dependent mammary tumors. Furthermore, melatonin could act directly on tumoral cells, thereby influencing their proliferative rate. Other possible origins of melatonin's antitumoral actions could be found in its antioxidant or immunoenhancing properties. The working hypotheses of most experiments were that the activation of the pineal gland, or the administration of melatonin, should give rise to antitumoral behavior; conversely, suppression of the pineal gland or melatonin deficits should stimulate mammary tumorigenesis. From in vivo studies on animal models of tumorigenesis, the general conclusion is that experimental manipulations activating the pineal gland, or the administration of melatonin, enlarge the latency and reduce the incidence and growth rate of chemically induced mammary tumors, while pinealectomy usually has the opposite effects. The direct actions of melatonin on mammary tumors have been suggested because of its ability to inhibit, at physiological doses (1 nM), the in vitro proliferation and invasiveness of MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. The fact that most studies have been performed on two models, chemically induced mammary adenocarcinoma in rats (in vivo studies) and the cell tumor line MCF-7 (in vitro studies), makes the generalization of the results somewhat difficult. However, the characteristics of these actions, comprising different aspects of tumor biology such as initiation, proliferation, and metastasis, as well as the doses (physiological range) at which the effect is accomplished, give special value to these findings. On the strength of these data, the small number of clinical studies focusing on the possible therapeutic value of melatonin on breast cancer is surprising.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.