Melatonin inhibits ESCC tumor growth by mitigating the HDAC7/β-catenin/c-Myc positive feedback loop and suppressing the USP10-maintained HDAC7 protein stability

Mil Med Res. 2022 Sep 27;9(1):54. doi: 10.1186/s40779-022-00412-0.


Background: Melatonin, a natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland, has been reported to exhibit antitumor properties through diverse mechanisms of action. However, the oncostatic function of melatonin on esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) remains elusive. This study was conducted to investigate the potential effect and underlying molecular mechanism of melatonin as single anticancer agent against ESCC cells.

Methods: ESCC cell lines treated with or without melatonin were used in this study. In vitro colony formation and EdU incorporation assays, and nude mice tumor xenograft model were used to confirm the proliferative capacities of ESCC cells. RNA-seq, qPCR, Western blotting, recombinant lentivirus-mediated target gene overexpression or knockdown, plasmids transfection and co-IP were applied to investigate the underlying molecular mechanism by which melatonin inhibited ESCC cell growth. IHC staining on ESCC tissue microarray and further survival analyses were performed to explore the relationship between target genes' expression and prognosis of ESCC.

Results: Melatonin treatment dose-dependently inhibited the proliferative ability and the expression of histone deacetylase 7 (HDAC7), c-Myc and ubiquitin-specific peptidase 10 (USP10) in ESCC cells (P < 0.05). The expressions of HDAC7, c-Myc and USP10 in tumors were detected significantly higher than the paired normal tissues from 148 ESCC patients (P < 0.001). Then, the Kaplan-Meier survival analyses suggested that ESCC patients with high HDAC7, c-Myc or USP10 levels predicted worse overall survival (Log-rank P < 0.001). Co-IP and Western blotting analyses further revealed that HDAC7 physically deacetylated and activated β-catenin thus promoting downstream target c-Myc gene transcription. Notably, our mechanistic study validated that HDAC7/β-catenin/c-Myc could form the positive feedback loop to enhance ESCC cell growth, and USP10 could deubiquitinate and stabilize HDAC7 protein in the ESCC cells. Additionally, we verified that inhibition of the HDAC7/β-catenin/c-Myc axis and USP10/HDAC7 pathway mediated the anti-proliferative action of melatonin on ESCC cells.

Conclusions: Our findings elucidate that melatonin mitigates the HDAC7/β-catenin/c-Myc positive feedback loop and inhibits the USP10-maintained HDAC7 protein stability thus suppressing ESCC cell growth, and provides the reference for identifying biomarkers and therapeutic targets for ESCC.

Keywords: Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC); Histone deacetylase 7 (HDAC7); Melatonin; Ubiquitin-specific peptidase 10 (USP10); c-Myc; β-catenin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catenins / metabolism
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Esophageal Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Esophageal Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma* / drug therapy
  • Feedback
  • Histone Deacetylases / genetics
  • Histone Deacetylases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Melatonin* / pharmacology
  • Melatonin* / therapeutic use
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Protein Stability
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase / metabolism
  • Ubiquitin-Specific Proteases / metabolism
  • beta Catenin / genetics
  • beta Catenin / metabolism


  • CTNNB1 protein, human
  • Catenins
  • MYC protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • USP10 protein, human
  • beta Catenin
  • Ubiquitin Thiolesterase
  • Ubiquitin-Specific Proteases
  • HDAC7 protein, human
  • Histone Deacetylases
  • Melatonin