An enzyme commonly used as a target for antidepressants may also promote prostate cancer growth, according to an international team of scientists.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (2014; doi:10.1172/JCI70982), found that suppressing the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) may reduce or even eliminate prostate tumor growth and metastasis in laboratory mice. The finding could open the door for physicians to use antidepressants to fight prostate cancer. Currently, drugs that inhibit MAOA enzymes are used to treat patients with mental illnesses such as depression.

“When this enzyme is not suppressed, it produces a tumor-rich environment that fuels the growth and metastasis of prostate cancer cells,” said corresponding author Leland Chung, PhD, director of the Uro-Oncology Research Program at the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute in Los Angeles, California. “Suppressing this enzyme and combining it with current therapies may provide a better way to manage and cure men with metastatic prostate cancer.”

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MAOA regulates the amount of neurotransmitters in the central nervous system by deactivating and breaking them down. Like all enzymes in the brain, MAOA is needed in optimum quantities to work effectively on patients. Previous studies have shown that too much MAOA is linked with depression, and too little of the enzyme is linked with autism, aggression, and anxiety.

“This is the first paper showing that MAOA plays an important role in prostate cancer progression and metastasis and may provide an unmet need in cancer treatment,” said co-corresponding author Jean C. Shih, University Professor at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, also in Los Angeles.

The study concluded that the molecular basis of the action of MAOA could serve as a biomarker for prostate cancer with increased aggressiveness, and that MAOA could be targeted to develop therapies for prostate cancer.