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Cell Mol Life Sci. 2017 Nov;74(21):4015-4025. doi: 10.1007/s00018-017-2612-z. Epub 2017 Aug 7.

Melatonin, mitochondria, and the cancer cell.

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Department of Surgery, "Pietro Valdoni", Sapienza University of Rome, Via Antonio Scarpa 14, 00161, Rome, Italy.
Department of Experimental Medicine, Sapienza University of Rome, Viale Regina Elena 324, 00161, Rome, Italy.


The long-recognized fact that oxidative stress within mitochondria is a hallmark of mitochondrial dysfunction has stimulated the development of mitochondria-targeted antioxidant therapies. Melatonin should be included among the pharmacological agents able to modulate mitochondrial functions in cancer, given that a number of relevant melatonin-dependent effects are triggered by targeting mitochondrial functions. Indeed, melatonin may modulate the mitochondrial respiratory chain, thus antagonizing the cancer highly glycolytic bioenergetic pathway of cancer cells. Modulation of the mitochondrial respiratory chain, together with Ca2+ release and mitochondrial apoptotic effectors, may enhance the spontaneous or drug-induced apoptotic processes. Given that melatonin may efficiently counteract the Warburg effect while stimulating mitochondrial differentiation and mitochondrial-based apoptosis, it is argued that the pineal neurohormone could represent a promising new perspective in cancer treatment strategy.


Cancer; Melatonin; Mitochondria; Warburg effect

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