Melatonin has been shown to have a direct inhibitory effect on the proliferation of estrogen-responsive MCF-7 human breast cancer cells, involving an interaction with estradiol. The anti-proliferative effect of melatonin is reversed by the addition of estradiol to the culture. In the present study, we examined whether inhibition by melatonin and subsequent estrogen rescue of MCF-7 cells are correlated with morphological and morphometric changes in these cells. After 4 days of exposure to melatonin, MCF-7 cells showed significantly smaller cell and nuclear sizes than other groups. These morphometric results were closely related to the ultrastructural features observed in these cells. While control and estradiol-treated cells showed increased tumor characteristics, melatonin-treated cells presented greater differentiation, in keeping with their epithelial origin (presence of cytokeratin filament bundles, conspicuous rough endoplasmic reticulum, and Golgi cisternae together with the presence of prominent nucleoli at the nuclear level). Additionally, some melatonin-treated cells displayed degenerative features (mitochondrial swelling with disruption of cristae, cytoplasmic vacuolation, nuclear chromatin disgregation and cell lysis). The addition of estradiol to cells previously incubated with melatoninreversed the changes induced by the latter and these cells showed the same ultrastructural features as the control cells. Our results support the notion that melatonin exerts its antitumor effect through a cell-cycle-specific mechanism by delaying the entry of MCF-7 cells into mitosis. This allows the tumor cells to achieve greater differentiation. The fact that the morphometric and morphological effects induced by melatonin are counteracted by estrogens suggests a cell-cycle acceleration induced by estradiol.
Interaction between melatonin and estradiol on morphological and morphometric features of MCF-7 human breast cancer cells