Colorectal cancer (CRC), which is one of the most common malignancies worldwide, results from an accumulation of genetic and epigenetic modifications including DNA methylation. Neurotensin (NTS), a hormone localized to the gut and central nervous system, mediates its physiological and pathological effects, including growth stimulation for a variety of cancers, through three distinct NTS receptors (NTSRs). Most NTS functions are mediated through the high-affinity receptor NTSR1, and expression of NTSR1 is increased in many cancers including CRC. In this study, we investigated the expression profiles and cellular functions of the NTSRs, especially NTSR1, in CRC cells. We showed that expression levels for NTS and NTSR1 varied, that NTSR2 expression was not detectable and that NTSR3 was consistently expressed in all CRC cell lines examined. Treatment with the demethylating agent, 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine, augmented levels of NTSR1/2 in Caco2 and DLD1 cells, which have little or no transcripts for NTSR1/2 suggesting that DNA methylation suppresses NTSR1/2 expression. In addition, we demonstrated that knockdown of NTSR1 decreased cell growth and migration in HCT116 and HT29 cells. Finally, we showed that treatment with SR48692, an antagonist of NTSR1, also inhibited cell proliferation and migration in the CRC cells. Our findings identify promoter methylation as an important process regulating the differential expression or silencing of NTSR1/2 in CRC cells. Moreover, inhibition of NTSR1 repressed tumorigenic effects in CRC cells, suggesting that NTSR1 may be used as a therapeutic target for CRC.

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Published in International Journal of Oncology, v. 50, issue 6, p. 2200-2206.

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This study was supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant R01 DK112034 and by the Biostatistical and Bioinformatics shared resource facility of the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center (supported by National Cancer Institute grant no. P30CA177558).