We investigated the antitumorogenic effects of progesterone (P4) in a human neuroblastoma (SK-N-AS) cell line in vitro and in a mouse xenograft model of neuroblastoma. The safety of P4 was tested in rat primary cortical neurons and human foreskin fibroblasts (HFF-1). At high doses, P4 significantly (P < 0.05) decreased SK-N-AS cell viability in vitro, and this effect was not blocked either by 5α-reductase inhibitor, finasteride or the P4 receptor antagonist RU486. Even at very high doses, P4 did not induce any cell death in healthy primary cortical neurons or HFF-1. The bioavailability of P4 24 h after the last injection in the serum of treated animals was significantly (P < 0.05) higher (10-33 μg/mL) than in untreated animals. In nude mice, P4 (50 and 100 mg/kg) inhibited neuroblastoma growth by ~50% over 8 d of treatment. No drug toxicity was observed in the mice, as measured by body weight and activity. P4 suppressed the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and matrix metalloproteinases (MMP-9, MMP-2), which are involved in tumor vascular development. High-dose P4 inhibited tumor growth by suppressing cell proliferation and inducing apoptosis, as evidenced by the expression of proliferating cell nuclear antigen and cleaved caspase-3. P4 significantly increased the expression of P4 receptor isoform-A and suppressed phospho-Akt (Ser437) expression. In conclusion, at high doses, P4 effectively inhibits the growth of solid neuroblastoma tumor and has high bioavailability, selective toxicity and a high margin of safety, making it a possible candidate for further study as a potential clinical treatment of neuroblastoma.
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