Background: Current evidence indicates that a stem cell-like sub-population within malignant glioblastomas, that overexpress members of the adenosine triphosphate-binding cassette (ABC) family transporters, is responsible for multidrug resistance and tumour relapse. Eradication of the brain tumour stem cell (BTSC) compartment is therefore essential to achieve a stable and long-lasting remission.
Methods: Melatonin actions were analysed by viability cell assays, flow cytometry, quantitative PCR for mRNA expression, western blot for protein expression and quantitative and qualitative promoter methylation methods.
Results: Combinations of melatonin and chemotherapeutic drugs (including temozolomide, current treatment for malignant gliomas) have a synergistic toxic effect on BTSCs and A172 malignant glioma cells. This effect is correlated with a downregulation of the expression and function of the ABC transporter ABCG2/BCRP. Melatonin increased the methylation levels of the ABCG2/BCRP promoter and the effects on ABCG2/BCRP expression and function were prevented by preincubation with a DNA methyltransferase inhibitor.
Conclusion: Our results point out a possible relationship between the downregulation of ABCG2/BCRP function and the synergistic toxic effect of melatonin and chemotherapeutic drugs. Melatonin could be a promising candidate to overcome multidrug resistance in the treatment of glioblastomas, and thus improve the efficiency of current therapies.