The oxytocin receptor signalling system and breast cancer: a critical review

Oncogene. 2020 Sep;39(37):5917-5932. doi: 10.1038/s41388-020-01415-8. Epub 2020 Aug 11.


Breast cancer is making up one-quarter of all new female cancer cases diagnosed worldwide. Breast cancer surgeries, radiation therapies, cytotoxic chemotherapies and targeted therapies have made significant progress and play a dominant role in breast cancer patient management. However, many challenges remain, including resistance to systemic therapies, tumour recurrence and metastasis. The cyclic neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) elicits a plethora of biological responses via the oxytocin receptor (OTR) in both the central and peripheral nervous system, including social bonding, stress, maternal behaviour, sexual activity, uterus contraction, milk ejection and cancer. As a typical member of the G protein-coupled receptor family, OTR represents also an intriguing target for cancer therapy. There is emerging evidence that OTR plays a role in breast cancer development and progression, and several breast cancer cell lines express OTR. However, despite supporting evidence that OT lowers breast cancer risks, its mechanistic role in breast cancer development and the related signalling pathways are not fully understood. Here, we review the current knowledge of the OT/OTR signalling system in healthy breast tissue as well as in breast cancer, and discuss OTR as a potential therapeutic target for breast cancer management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • Chemoprevention
  • Disease Management
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Disease Susceptibility*
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Oxytocin / analogs & derivatives
  • Oxytocin / metabolism
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / genetics
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction* / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, Oxytocin
  • Oxytocin