Stress is associated with an increased risk of lung metastasis in melanoma. However, the underlying mechanism is elusive. Oxytocin (OXT), a neurohormone produced by the hypothalamus, plays a vital role in laboring induction and lactation. Emerging evidence suggests that OXT also regulates human emotions, social cognition, social behaviors and stress-related disorders. Here, we reported that a significant up-regulation of oxytocin receptors (OXTRs) was observed in malignant melanoma. The activation of oxytocin receptors (OXTRs) dramatically promoted migration, invasion and angiogenesis but not the proliferation of melanoma cells in vitro and in vivo via β-arrestin 2-dependent ERK-VEGF/ MMP-2 pathway. Next, chronic restraint stress significantly elevated the plasma level of OXT. Notably, 21 days chronic restraint stress facilitated lung metastasis of melanoma and reduced overall survival in mice, which were largely abrogated by knocking down either OXTR or β-arrestin 2. These findings provide evidence that chronic stress hormone-OXT promotes lung metastasis of melanoma via a β-arrestin 2-dependent mechanism and suggest that OXT, a novel pro-metastasis factor, is a potential therapeutic target for melanoma.
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