Stress alters the expression of cancer-related genes in the prostate

BMC Cancer. 2017 Sep 5;17(1):621. doi: 10.1186/s12885-017-3635-4.


Background: Prostate cancer is a major contributor to mortality worldwide, and significant efforts are being undertaken to decipher specific cellular and molecular pathways underlying the disease. Chronic stress is known to suppress reproductive function and promote tumor progression in several cancer models, but our understanding of the mechanisms through which stress contributes to cancer development and progression is incomplete. We therefore examined the relationship between stress, modulation of the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) system, and changes in the expression of cancer-related genes in the rat prostate.

Methods: Adult male rats were acutely or repeatedly exposed to restraint stress, and compared to unstressed controls and groups that were allowed 14 days of recovery from the stress. Prostate tissue was collected and frozen for gene expression analyses by PCR array before the rats were transcardially perfused; and brain tissues harvested and immunohistochemically stained for Fos to determine neuronal activation.

Results: Acute stress elevated Fos expression in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVH), an effect that habituated with repeated stress exposure. Data from the PCR arrays showed that repeated stress significantly increases the transcript levels of several genes associated with cellular proliferation, including proto-oncogenes. Data from another array platform showed that both acute and repeated stress can induce significant changes in metastatic gene expression. The functional diversity of genes with altered expression, which includes transcription factors, growth factor receptors, apoptotic genes, and extracellular matrix components, suggests that stress is able to induce aberrant changes in pathways that are deregulated in prostate cancer.

Conclusions: Our findings further support the notion that stress can affect cancer outcomes, perhaps by interfering with neuroendocrine mechanisms involved in the control of reproduction.

Keywords: HPG axis; Prostate cancer; Prostate gene expression; Stress.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Endocrine System / metabolism
  • Gene Expression*
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Oncogenes*
  • Prostate / metabolism*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stress, Physiological*
  • Stress, Psychological*


  • Biomarkers
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos