Diphenylbutylpiperidine Antipsychotic Drugs Inhibit Prolactin Receptor Signaling to Reduce Growth of Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma in Mice.

Document Type


Publication Date



DOI: 10.1053/j.gastro.2019.11.279; PMCID: PMC7103550


BACKGROUND & AIMS: Prolactin (PRL) signaling is up-regulated in hormone-responsive cancers. The PRL receptor (PRLR) is a class I cytokine receptor that signals via the Janus kinase (JAK)-signal transducer and activator of transcription and mitogen-activated protein kinase pathways to regulate cell proliferation, migration, stem cell features, and apoptosis. Patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) have high plasma levels of PRL. We investigated whether PRLR signaling contributes to the growth of pancreatic tumors in mice.

METHODS: We used immunohistochemical analyses to compare levels of PRL and PRLR in multitumor tissue microarrays. We used structure-based virtual screening and fragment-based drug discovery to identify compounds likely to bind PRLR and interfere with its signaling. Human pancreatic cell lines (AsPC-1, BxPC-3, Panc-1, and MiaPaCa-2), with or without knockdown of PRLR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats or small hairpin RNA), were incubated with PRL or penfluridol and analyzed in proliferation and spheroid formation. C57BL/6 mice were given injections of UNKC-6141 cells, with or without knockdown of PRLR, into pancreas, and tumor development was monitored for 4 weeks, with some mice receiving penfluridol treatment for 21 days. Human pancreatic tumor tissues were implanted into interscapular fat pads of NSG mice, and mice were given injections of penfluridol daily for 28 days. Nude mice were given injections of Panc-1 cells, xenograft tumors were grown for 2 weeks, and mice were then given intraperitoneal penfluridol for 35 days. Tumors were collected from mice and analyzed by histology, immunohistochemistry, and immunoblots.

RESULTS: Levels of PRLR were increased in PDAC compared with nontumor pancreatic tissues. Incubation of pancreatic cell lines with PRL activated signaling via JAK2-signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 and extracellular signal-regulated kinase, as well as formation of pancospheres and cell migration; these activities were not observed in cells with PRLR knockdown. Pancreatic cancer cells with PRLR knockdown formed significantly smaller tumors in mice. We identified several diphenylbutylpiperidine-class antipsychotic drugs as agents that decreased PRL-induced JAK2 signaling; incubation of pancreatic cancer cells with these compounds reduced their proliferation and formation of panco spheres. Injections of 1 of these compounds, penfluridol, slowed the growth of xenograft tumors in the different mouse models, reducing proliferation and inducing autophagy of the tumor cells.

CONCLUSIONS: Levels of PRLR are increased in PDAC, and exposure to PRL increases proliferation and migration of pancreatic cancer cells. Antipsychotic drugs, such as penfluridol, block PRL signaling in pancreatic cancer cells to reduce their proliferation, induce autophagy, and slow the growth of xenograft tumors in mice. These drugs might be tested in patients with PDAC.

Journal Title






First Page


Last Page


MeSH Keywords

Animals; Antipsychotic Agents; Autophagy; Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal; Cell Line, Tumor; Cell Proliferation; Drug Discovery; Gene Knockdown Techniques; Humans; Injections, Intraperitoneal; Janus Kinase 2; Male; Mice; Pancreas; Pancreatic Neoplasms; Penfluridol; Prolactin; Receptors, Prolactin; STAT3 Transcription Factor; Signal Transduction; Spheroids, Cellular; Tissue Array Analysis; Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


Combination Therapy; Dopamine Receptor; Gemcitabine; Molecular Modeling

Library Record