Melanotan II (MTII), a synthetic analogue of the alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH), has been applied for skin tanning in humans. However, the carcinogenic consequence of topical MTII has been equivocal. This study aims to delineate the anti-neoplastic efficacy and mechanism of MTII using the B16-F10 melanoma model in vitro and in vivo. It was found that, despite a lack of influence on proliferation, MTII potently inhibited the migration, invasion, and colony-forming capability of melanoma cells. Moreover, topical MTII application significantly attenuated the tumor progression in mice bearing established melanoma. Histological analysis revealed that MTII therapy induced apoptosis while inhibiting the proliferation and neovaluarization in melanoma tissues. By immunoblot and immunohistochemical analysis, it was found that MTII dose-dependently increased the phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) protein level while reducing PTEN phosphorylation, which resulted in the inhibition of AKT/nuclear factor kappa B (NFκB) signaling. Consistently, MTII treatment inhibited cyclooxygenase II (COX-2) expression and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) production in melanoma cells. Finally, studies of antibody neutralization suggest that the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) plays a critical role in MTII-induced PTEN upregulation and melanoma suppression. Together, these results indicate that MTII elicits PTEN upregulation via MC1R, thereby suppressing melanoma progression through downregulating COX-2/PGE2 signaling. Hence, topical MTII therapy may facilitate a novel therapeutic strategy against melanoma.
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