Autocrine and paracrine signaling through neuropeptide receptors in human cancer

Oncogene. 2001 Mar 26;20(13):1563-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1204183.


Autocrine and paracrine signaling leading to stimulation of tumor cell growth is a common theme in human cancers. In addition to polypeptide growth factors such as EGF family members which signal through receptor tyrosine kinases, accumulating evidence supports the autocrine and paracrine involvement of specific neuropeptides with defined physiologic actions as neurotransmitters and gut hormones in lung, gastric, colorectal, pancreatic and prostatic cancers. These neuropeptides, including gastrin-releasing peptide, neuromedin B, neurotensin, gastrin, cholecystokinin and arginine vasopressin bind seven transmembrane-spanning receptors that couple to heterotrimeric G proteins. Studies with human small cell lung cancer (SCLC) cells support a requirement for balanced signaling through G(q) and G(12/13) proteins leading to intracellular Ca2+ mobilization, PKC activation and regulation of the ERK and JNK MAP kinase pathways. While specific neuropeptide antagonists offer promise for interrupting the single neuropeptide autocrine systems operating in pancreatic and prostatic cancers, SCLC is exemplified by multiple, redundant neuropeptide autocrine systems such that tumor growth cannot be inhibited with a single specific antagonist. However, a novel class of neuropeptide derivatives based on the substance P sequence have been defined that exhibit broad specificity for neuropeptide receptors and induce apoptosis in SCLC by functioning as biased agonists that stimulate discordant signal transduction. Thus, interruption of autocrine and paracrine neuropeptide signaling with specific antagonists or broad-spectrum biased agonists offer promising new therapeutic approaches to the treatment of human cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Autocrine Communication*
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Paracrine Communication*
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Substance P / analogs & derivatives


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Receptors, Neuropeptide
  • Substance P