Endothelin-1 is a vasoactive peptide that activates both the endothelin A (ET(A)) and endothelin B (ET(B)) receptors, and is secreted in high concentrations in many different cancer environments. Although ET(A) receptor activation has an established nociceptive effect in cancer models, the role of ET(B) receptors on cancer pain is controversial. EDNRB, the gene encoding the ET(B) receptor, has been shown to be hypermethylated and transcriptionally silenced in many different cancers. In this study we demonstrate that EDNRB is heavily methylated in human oral squamous cell carcinoma lesions, which are painful, but not methylated in human oral dysplasia lesions, which are typically not painful. ET(B) mRNA expression is reduced in the human oral squamous cell carcinoma lesions as a consequence of EDNRB hypermethylation. Using a mouse cancer pain model, we show that ET(B) receptor re-expression attenuates cancer-induced pain. These findings identify EDNRB methylation as a novel regulatory mechanism in cancer-induced pain and suggest that demethylation therapy targeted at the cancer microenvironment has the potential to thwart pain-producing mechanisms at the source, thus freeing patients of systemic analgesic toxicity.
Copyright © 2011 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.