The unique ability to adapt and thrive in inhospitable, stressful tumor microenvironments (TME) also renders cancer cells resistant to traditional chemotherapeutic treatments and/or novel pharmaceuticals.
Cancer cells exhibit extensive metabolic alterations involving hypoxia, accelerated glycolysis, oxidative stress, and increased extracellular ATP that may activate ancient, conserved prion adaptive response strategies that exacerbate multidrug resistance (MDR) by exploiting cellular stress to increase cancer metastatic potential and stemness, balance proliferation and differentiation, and amplify resistance to apoptosis. The regulation of prions in MDR is further complicated by important, putative physiological functions of ligand-binding and signal transduction.
Melatonin is capable of both enhancing physiological functions and inhibiting oncogenic properties of prion proteins. Through regulation of phase separation of the prion N-terminal domain which targets and interacts with lipid rafts, melatonin may prevent conformational changes that can result in aggregation and/or conversion to pathological, infectious isoforms. As a cancer therapy adjuvant, melatonin could modulate TME oxidative stress levels and hypoxia, reverse pH gradient changes, reduce lipid peroxidation, and protect lipid raft compositions to suppress prion-mediated, non-Mendelian, heritable, but often reversible epigenetic adaptations that facilitate cancer heterogeneity, stemness, metastasis, and drug resistance.
This review examines some of the mechanisms that may balance physiological and pathological effects of prions and prion-like proteins achieved through the synergistic use of melatonin to ameliorate MDR, which remains a challenge in cancer treatment.