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Biochimie. 2019 Jun;161:46-50. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2018.06.016. Epub 2018 Jun 21.

Serotonin and human cancer: A critical view.

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Laboratoire de Physiologie Humaine, Faculté de Médecine et Pharmacie, Université de Poitiers, 6 rue de la Milétrie, Bât D1, TSA 51115, 86073, Poitiers, Cedex 9, France. Electronic address:
Laboratoire STIM, ERL 7003-CNRS, Université de Poitiers, Pôle Biologie Santé, Bât B36, TSA 51106, 1 rue Georges Bonnet, 86073, Poitiers, Cedex 9, France. Electronic address:


Besides its classical functions as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, local mediator in the gastrointestinal tract and vasoactive agent in the blood, serotonin has more recently emerged as a growth factor for human tumor cells of different origins (carcinomas, glioma and carcinoids). Several data are also available on serotonin involvement in cancer cell migration, metastatic dissemination and tumor angiogenesis. The serotonin-induced signaling pathways that promote tumor progression are complex and only partly understood in some cancer types. The results of several studies showed that serotonin levels in the tumor played a crucial role in cancer progression. A serotonin production and secretion by neuroendocrine cells have been shown in the progression of several solid tumors and the involvement of a serotoninergic autocrine loop was proposed. Specific receptor subtypes are associated with different fundamental stages of tumor progression and the pattern of receptors expression becomes dysregulated in several human tumors when compared with normal cells or tissues. Serotonin receptors, selective serotonin transporter and serotonin synthesis pathways are potential chemotherapeutic targets for the treatment of several cancers in which therapeutic approaches are limited. Through several asked questions, this critical mini-review discusses the relevance of the involvement of serotonin in human cancer progression.


Angiogenesis; Carcinogenesis; Chemotherapy; Neuroendocrine cells; SSRI; Serotonin

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