FGF19/FGFR4 signaling axis confines and switches the role of melatonin in head and neck cancer metastasis

Liwei Lang, Yuanping Xiong, Nestor Prieto-Dominguez, Reid Loveless, Caleb Jensen, Chloe Shay, Yong Teng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: There is no consensus about the effective dosages of melatonin in cancer management, thus, it is imperative to fully understand the dose-dependent responsiveness of cancer cells to melatonin and the underlying mechanisms. Methods: Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cells with or without melatonin treatment were used as a research platform. Gene depletion was achieved by short hairpin RNA, small interfering RNA, and CRISPR/Cas9. Molecular changes and regulations were assessed by Western blotting, quantitative RT-PCR (qRT-PCR), immunohistochemistry, and chromatin Immunoprecipitation coupled with qPCR (ChIP-qPCR). The therapeutic efficacy of FGF19/FGFR4 inhibition in melatonin-mediated tumor growth and metastasis was evaluated in orthotopic tongue tumor mice. Results: The effect of melatonin on controlling cell motility and metastasis varies in HNSCC cells, which is dose-dependent. Mechanistically, high-dose melatonin facilitates the upregulation of FGF19 expression through activating endoplasmic stress (ER)-associated protein kinase RNA-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK)-Eukaryotic initiation factor 2 alpha (eIF2α)-activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4) pathway, which in turn promotes FGFR4-Vimentin invasive signaling and attenuates the role of melatonin in repressing metastasis. Intriguingly, following long-term exposure to high-dose melatonin, epithelial HNSCC cells revert the process towards mesenchymal transition and turn more aggressive, which is enabled by FGF19/FGFR4 upregulation and alleviated by genetic depletion of the FGF19 and FGFR4 genes or the treatment of FGFR4 inhibitor H3B-6527. Conclusions: Our study gains novel mechanistic insights into melatonin-mediated modulation of FGF19/FGFR4 signaling in HNSCC, demonstrating that activating this molecular node confines the role of melatonin in suppressing metastasis and even triggers the switch of its function from anti-metastasis to metastasis promotion. The blockade of FGF19/FGFR4 signaling would have great potential in improving the efficacy of melatonin supplements in cancer treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number93
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • ER stress
  • FGF19/FGFR4 axis
  • H3B-6527
  • Melatonin
  • Metastases

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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