Melatonin sensitizes human cervical cancer HeLa cells to cisplatin-induced cytotoxicity and apoptosis: effects on oxidative stress and DNA fragmentation

Published on Thursday, 31 March 2016


Melatonin has antitumor activity via several mechanisms including its antiproliferative and pro-apoptotic effects as well as its potent antioxidant actions, although recent evidence has indicated that melatonin may perform pro-oxidant actions in tumor cells.

Therefore, melatonin may be useful in the treatment of tumors in association with chemotherapy drugs. This study was intended to evaluate the in vitro effect of melatonin on the cytotoxic and pro-apoptotic actions of various chemotherapeutic agents in cervical cancer HeLa cells.

Herein, we found that both melatonin and three of the chemotherapeutic drugs tested, namely cisplatin (CIS), 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), and doxorubicin, induced a decrease in HeLa cell viability.

Furthermore, melatonin significantly increased the cytotoxic effect of such chemotherapeutic agents.

Consistently, costimulation of HeLa cells with any chemotherapeutic agent in the presence of melatonin further increased caspase-3 activation, particularly in CIS- and 5-FU-challenged cells.

Likewise, concomitant treatments with melatonin and CIS significantly enhanced the ratio of cells entering mitochondrial apoptosis due to reactive oxygen species (ROS) overproduction, substantially augmented the population of apoptotic cells, and markedly enlarged DNA fragmentation compared to the treatments with CIS alone.

Nonetheless, melatonin only displayed moderate chemosensitizing effects in 5-FU-stimulated HeLa cells, as suggested by slight increments in the percentage of cells stimulated for ROS production and in the proportion of early apoptotic cells compared to the treatments with 5-FU alone.

In summary, our findings provided evidence that in vitro melatonin strongly enhances CIS-induced cytotoxicity and apoptosis in HeLa cells and, hence, the indoleamine could be potentially applied to cervical cancer treatment as a powerful synergistic agent.



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