Many tumours of neuroendocrine origin, and also an increasing number of non-neuroendocrine cancers, have been shown to express neuropeptides and/or their corresponding receptors. These peptides and receptors represent the molecular basis for in vivo diagnostic or therapeutic targeting of cancer with radiolabelled or cytotoxic peptide analogues. Galanin is a classical neuropeptide that functions in diverse physiological processes such as food intake, nociception, and blood pressure regulation, and it can also act as a growth factor for neurons. Expression of galanin peptide has been detected in pheochromocytoma, pituitary adenoma, neuroblastic tumours, gastrointestinal cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, brain tumours, melanoma, breast cancer and embryonal carcinoma. In several cancers and tumour cell lines expression of galanin receptors--three are known (GalR1, 2 and 3)--has been shown as well. Expression of peptide or receptors has been correlated with tumour stage or subtypes of pituitary adenoma, neuroblastic tumours, colon carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Galanin treatment has tumour-reducing effects in murine models of gastrointestinal cancer, whereas in animal experiments on adenoma formation, galanin seems to act as a growth factor, promoting both proliferation and tumour formation. In cell culture experiments on tumour cell lines, galanin has shown growth promoting or inhibiting effects. Activation of GalR1 is generally anti-proliferative, whereas activation of GalR2 can have pro- or anti-proliferative effects. Therefore, galanin and its receptors are promising targets for diagnosis and treatment of several types of tumours.
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