Melatonin targets metabolism in head and neck cancer cells by regulating mitochondrial structure and function

Ana Guerra-Librero, Beatriz I. Fernandez-Gil, Javier Florido, Laura Martinez-Ruiz, César Rodríguez-Santana, Ying Qiang Shen, José M. García-Verdugo, Alba López-Rodríguez, Iryna Rusanova, Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, Darío Acuña-Castroviejo, Jordi Marruecos, Tomás De Haro, Germaine Escames

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Metabolic reprogramming, which is characteristic of cancer cells that rapidly adapt to the hypoxic microenvironment and is crucial for tumor growth and metastasis, is recognized as one of the major mechanisms underlying therapeutic resistance. Mitochondria, which are directly involved in metabolic reprogramming, are used to design novel mitochondria-targeted anticancer agents. Despite being targeted by melatonin, the functional role of mitochondria in melatonin’s oncostatic activity remains unclear. In this study, we aim to investigate the role of melatonin in mitochondrial metabolism and its functional consequences in head and neck cancer. We analyzed the effects of melatonin on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cell lines (Cal-27 and SCC-9), which were treated with 100, 500, and 1500 µM of melatonin for 1, 3, and 5 days, and found a connection between a change of metabolism following melatonin treatment and its effects on mitochondria. Our results demonstrate that melatonin induces a shift to an aerobic mitochondrial metabolism that is associated with changes in mitochondrial morphology, function, fusion, and fission in HNSCC. We found that melatonin increases oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) and inhibits glycolysis in HNSCC, resulting in increased ROS production, apoptosis, and mitophagy, and decreased cell proliferation. Our findings highlight new molecular pathways involved in melatonin’s oncostatic activity, suggesting that it could act as an adjuvant agent in a potential therapy for cancer patients. We also found that high doses of melatonin, such as those used in this study for its cytotoxic impact on HNSCC cells, might lead to additional effects through melatonin receptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number603
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Apoptosis
  • Free radicals
  • Glycolysis
  • Head and neck cancer cells
  • Melatonin
  • Mitochondria
  • Mitophagy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Melatonin targets metabolism in head and neck cancer cells by regulating mitochondrial structure and function'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this