Background: Obesity and its comorbidities constitute a serious health burden worldwide. Leptin plays an important role in diet control; however, it has a stimulatory potential on cancer cell proliferation. The OB3 peptide, a synthetic peptide, was shown to be more active than leptin in regulating metabolism but with no mitogenic effects in cancer cells. Methods: In this study, we investigated the proliferative effects, gene expressions and signaling pathways modulated by leptin and OB3 in human ovarian cancer cells. In addition, an animal study was performed. Results: Leptin, but not OB3, induced the proliferation of ovarian cancer cells. Interestingly, OB3 blocked the leptin-induced proliferative effect when it was co-applied with leptin. Both leptin and OB3 activated the phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3K) signal transduction pathway. In addition, leptin stimulated the phosphorylation of signal transducer and activator of transcription-3 (STAT3) Tyr-705 as well as estrogen receptor (ER)α, and the expression of ERα-responsive genes. Interestingly, all leptin-induced signal activation and gene expressions were blocked by the co-incubation with OB3 and the inhibition of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2. Coincidently, leptin, but not OB3, increased circulating levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which is known to play important roles in the initiation and proliferation of ovarian cancer cells. Conclusions: In summary, our findings suggest that the OB3 peptide may prevent leptin-induced ovarian cancer initiation and progression by disrupting leptin-induced proliferative signals via STAT3 phosphorylation and ERα activation. Therefore, the OB3 peptide is a potential anticancer agent that might be employed to prevent leptin-induced cancers in obese people.
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