Serotonin and Dopamine Receptor Expression in Solid Tumours Including Rare Cancers

Pathol Oncol Res. 2020 Jul;26(3):1539-1547. doi: 10.1007/s12253-019-00734-w. Epub 2019 Sep 2.


In preclinical studies serotonin stimulates and dopamine inhibits tumour growth and angiogenesis. Information regarding serotonin and dopamine receptor (5-HTR and DRD) expression in human cancers is limited. Therefore, we screened a large tumour set for receptor mRNA overexpression using functional genomic mRNA (FGmRNA) profiling, and we analysed protein expression and location of 5-HTR1B, 5-HTR2B, DRD1, and DRD2 with immunohistochemistry in different tumour types. With FGmRNA profiling 11,756 samples representing 43 tumour types were compared to 3,520 normal tissue samples to analyse receptor overexpression. 5-HTR2B overexpression was present in many tumour types, most frequently in uveal melanomas (56%). Receptor overexpression in rare cancers included 5-HTR1B in nasopharyngeal carcinoma (17%), DRD1 in ependymoma (30%) and synovial sarcoma (21%), and DRD2 in astrocytoma (13%). Immunohistochemistry demonstrated high 5-HTR2B protein expression on melanoma and gastro-intestinal stromal tumour cells and endothelial cells of colon, ovarian, breast, renal and pancreatic tumours. 5-HTR1B expression was predominantly low. High DRD2 protein expression on tumour cells was observed in 48% of pheochromocytomas, and DRD1 expression ranged from 14% in melanoma to 57% in renal cell carcinoma. In conclusion, 5-HTR1B, 5-HTR2B, DRD1, and DRD2 show mRNA overexpression in a broad spectrum of common and rare cancers. 5-HTR2B protein is frequently highly expressed in human cancers, especially on endothelial cells. These findings support further investigation of especially 5HTR2B as a potential treatment target.

Keywords: Dopamine receptor D1; Dopamine receptor D2; Neoplasms; Neovascularization; Serotonin receptor 1B; Serotonin receptor 2B.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Dopamine / biosynthesis*
  • Receptors, Serotonin / biosynthesis*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Receptors, Serotonin