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Carcinogenesis. 2012 Jan;33(1):191-6. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgr251. Epub 2011 Nov 9.

Regulation of pancreatic cancer by neuropsychological stress responses: a novel target for intervention.

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Experimental Oncology Laboratory, Department of Biomedical and Diagnostic Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA.


Pancreatic cancer has a poor prognosis and is associated with high levels of psychological stress that may adversely affect clinical outcomes. However, the potential influence of neuropsychological factors on pancreatic cancer has not been investigated to date. Using a mouse model of social stress, we have tested the hypothesis that psychological stress promotes the progression of pancreatic cancer xenografts via neurotransmitter-induced activation of multiple pathways and that the inhibitory neurotransmitter γ-aminobutiric acid (GABA) inhibits these responses. Sytemic and xenograft levels of noradrenalin, adrenalin, GABA, cortisol, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and cyclic adenosine 3', 5'-monophosphate (cAMP) were measured by immunoassays. Xenograft expression of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) α3, α4, α5, α6 and α7 and β-adrenergic receptors 1 and 2 were assessed by real-time PCR and western blots. Expression of glutamate decarboxylases GAD65 and GAD67 and phosphorylated and unphosphorylated signaling proteins of relevance to pancreatic cancer were determined in tumor tissue by western blots. Psychological stress significantly promoted xenograft growth and increased systemic and tumor levels of noradrenalin, adrenalin, cortisol, VEGF and cAMP while GABA and GAD were suppressed. Stress upregulated nAChR proteins but not RNAs and induced phosphorylated ERK, CREB, Src and AKT in xenografts. Reduction of cAMP by treatment with GABA prevented tumor progression and activation of signaling proteins. Our findings suggest that neurotransmitter responses to psychological stress negatively impact clinical outcomes of pancreatic cancer via the activation of multiple pathways and that replacement of the suppressed inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA prevents these effects.

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