Melatonin modulation of intracellular signaling pathways in hepatocarcinoma HepG2 cell line: role of the MT1 receptor

J Pineal Res. 2011 Nov;51(4):463-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-079X.2011.00910.x. Epub 2011 Jul 1.


Melatonin reduces proliferation in many different cancer cell lines. However, studies on the oncostatic effects of melatonin in hepatocarcinoma are limited. We have previously demonstrated that melatonin administration induces cycle arrest, apoptosis, and changes in the expression of its specific receptors in HepG2 human hepatocarcinoma cells. In this study, we used the receptor antagonist luzindole to assess the contribution of MT1 melatonin membrane receptor to melatonin effects on cell viability, mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPKs) activation, and cAMP levels. Additionally, effects of MT1 inhibition on mRNA levels of cytosolic quinone reductase type-2 (NQO2) receptor and nuclear retinoic acid-related orphan receptor alpha (RORα) were tested. Melatonin, at 1000 and 2500 μm, significantly reduced cell viability. Pre-incubation with luzindole partially inhibited the effects of melatonin on cell viability. Melatonin at 2500 μm significantly reduced cAMP levels, and this effect was partially blocked by luzindole. Both melatonin concentrations increased the expression of phosphorylated p38, ERK, and JNK. ERK activation was completely abolished in the presence of luzindole. NQO2 but not RORα mRNA level significantly increased in luzindole-treated cells. Results obtained provide evidence that the melatonin effects on cell viability and proliferation in HepG2 cells are partially mediated through the MT1 membrane receptor, which seems to be related also with melatonin modulation of cAMP and ERK activation. This study also highlights a possible interplay between MT1 and NQO2 melatonin receptors in liver cancer cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blotting, Western
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cyclic AMP / metabolism
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Melatonin / pharmacology*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT1 / genetics
  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT1 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Receptor, Melatonin, MT1
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Melatonin