Timing within the oestrous cycle modulates adrenergic suppression of NK activity and resistance to metastasis: Possible clinical implications

S. Ben-Eliyahu*, G. Shakhar, K. Shakhar, R. Melamed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Clinical observations suggest that the rate of metastatic development and long-term mortality following surgery in breast cancer patients is influenced by the menstrual phase during which surgery is conducted. The menstrual cycle is known to modulate various physiological responses and medical conditions that involve adrenergic mechanisms (e.g., asthma). Natural killer activity (NKA), an immune function controlling metastasis, is suppressed following surgery, and in vitro by adrenaline. We therefore hypothesize that the clinical observation may be partly attributable to surgery-induced adrenergic suppression of NK-dependent resistance to metastasis, a suppression that depends on menstrual phase during surgery. To test this hypothesis in rats, 140 F344 females at different phases of their oestrous cycle were injected with a β-adrenergic agonist, metaproterenol (MP) (0.4 or 0.8 mg kg-1 s.c.), or with vehicle, before i.v. inoculation with MADB106 tumour cells. This syngeneic mammary adenocarcinoma line metastasizes only to the lungs, and is highly sensitive to NKA. In a second experiment, the suppression of NKA by MP was studied in vitro in blood drawn at different phases of the oestrous cycle (n = 36). Finally, the effects of stress on the number and activity of NK cells were assessed along the oestrous cycle (n = 71). The findings indicate that the suppressive effects of MP on resistance to metastasis and on NKA, are significantly greater during the oestrous phase characterized by high oestradiol levels (D3/proestrus/oestrus). Similarly, NKA per cell was suppressed by stress only during this phase. In untreated animals, in which inadvertent stress was minimized, no effects of the oestrous cycle on NKA or on resistance to metastasis were evident. These findings indicate that the oestrous cycle modulates adrenergic suppression of NKA and of resistance to metastasis. The relevance of these findings to the above clinical observation, as well as that of our related findings in women from a parallel study, is discussed. (C) 2000 Cancer Research Campaign.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1747-1754
Number of pages8
JournalBritish Journal of Cancer
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2000


  • Catecholamines
  • Immunity
  • Metastasis
  • Natural killer
  • Oestrous cycle


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