Beta blockers, norepinephrine, and cancer: an epidemiological viewpoint
Paul J Fitzgerald
The Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, Solomon H Snyder Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA
Abstract: There is growing evidence that the neurotransmitter norepinephrine (NE) and its sister molecule epinephrine (EPI) (adrenaline) affect some types of cancer. Several recent epidemiological studies have shown that chronic use of beta blocking drugs (which antagonize NE/EPI receptors) results in lower recurrence, progression, or mortality of breast cancer and malignant melanoma. Preclinical studies have shown that manipulation of the levels or receptors of NE and EPI with drugs affects experimentally induced cancers. Psychological stress may play an etiological role in some cases of cancer (which has been shown epidemiologically), and this could be partly mediated by NE and EPI released by the sympathetic nervous system as part of the body’s “fight or flight” response. A less well-appreciated phenomenon is that the genetic tone of NE/EPI may play a role in cancer. NE and EPI may affect cancer by interacting with molecular pathways already implicated in abnormal cellular replication, such as the P38/MAPK pathway, or via oxidative stress. NE/EPI-based drugs other than beta blockers also may prevent or treat various types of cancer, as may cholinesterase inhibitors that inhibit the sympathetic nervous system, which could be tested epidemiologically.
Keywords: clonidine, guanfacine, aspirin, acetylcholine, epinephrine, adrenaline, sympathetic nervous system, parasympathetic nervous system, inflammation
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