Melatonin suppresses tumor angiogenesis by inhibiting HIF-1α stabilization under hypoxia

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Angiogenesis is an important mediator of tumor progression. As tumors expand, diffusion distances from the existing vascular supply increases, resulting in hypoxia in the cancer cells. Sustained expansion of a tumor mass requires new blood vessel formation to provide rapidly proliferating tumor cells with an adequate supply of oxygen and nutrients. The key regulator of hypoxia-induced angiogenesis is the transcription factor known as hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1. HIF-1α is stabilized by hypoxia-induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) and enhances the expression of several types of hypoxic genes, including that of the angiogenic activator known as vascular endothelial cell growth factor (VEGF). In this study, we found that melatonin, a small lipophilic molecule secreted primarily by the pineal gland, destabilizes hypoxia-induced HIF-1α protein levels in the HCT116 human colon cancer cell line. This destabilization of HIF-1α resulted from the antioxidant activity of melatonin against ROS induced by hypoxia. Moreover, under hypoxia, melatonin suppressed HIF-1 transcriptional activity, leading to a decrease in VEGF expression. Melatonin also blocked in vitro tube formation and invasion and migration of human umbilical vein endothelial cells induced by hypoxia-stimulated conditioned media of HCT116 cells. These findings suggest that melatonin could play a pivotal role in tumor suppression via inhibition of HIF-1-mediated angiogenesis.

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