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Neuroendocrinology Letters incl. Psychoneuroimmunology & Chronobiology


ISSNİ0172ñ780X Copyrightİ©İ1997 NeuroendocrinologyİLetters

NEL Vol. 18 No. 2/3

1998; 18:63-70
pii: NEL182397R01


Pineal Gland and Cancer: An Old Concept with Potential for the Future
by Christian Bartsch and Hella Bartsch

Historical Remarks

During the development of endocrinology in this century it became obvious that the hormonal system is structured hierarchically and that the hypothalamo-hypophyseal unit controls the peripheral glands. Predominantly central sfimulatory signals govern e.g. gonadal function, however, it was not clear how inhibitory control may be exerted. Early endocrinologists supposed that the pineal gland as a prominent yet small unpaired organ located approximately in the geometric center of the brain may produce hormones involved in the inhibitory control of the endocrine system. Extracts produced by the pineal gland and administered to experimental animals gave evidence for the presence of inhibitory principles not only affecting gonadal function but also growth in general (Engel and Bergmann 1952). Due to the growth-inhibitory properties of these aqueous extracts it was assumed that the pineal gland may also be involved in the control of neoplastic growth (Engel 1935). W. Bergmann and P. Engel (1950) administered bovine pineal extracts to mice with benzopyrene-induced skin tumors and observed a clear inhibition. Subsequent experiments confirmed these initial findings (Engel and Fischi 1954). At the time when Engel (1935) was performing his first experiments similar extracts were used in veterinary medicine due to their anti-gonadal properties to treat hypersexualism and states of irritability in animals (Ott 1938). The existence of pineal gland substances capable of controlling gonadal function led to the assumption that pineal extracts could be helpful in treating tumors of the reproductive tract. R. Hofstätter (1959) who was also working in Vienna like Engel and Bergmann in the 1930s administered bovine pineal extracts to more than 150 women suffering from uterine, mammary or ovarian cancer. He reported favourable results pertaining not only to inhibition of tumor growth but also to an improvement of their quality of life due a general feeling of well-being and alleviation of pain. At this time also other clinicians attempted a therapeutic use of pineal substances in cancer patients: Sander Schmid (1952) gave subcutaneous implants of fresh pig pineal glands and observed control of the malignant process and Altieri and Sorrentino (1956) successfully treated prostate cancer patients with pineal extracts. Kitay and Altschule (1954), in their book on the pineal gland, concluded that pineal preparations generally seem to possess inhibitory actions on spontaneous and transplantable neoplasias. In those times pineal extracts were commercially available, e.g. Epiglandol (Hoffmann-La Roche) or Epiphysan (Richter, Budapest), and were used not only in oncology but for a number of other diseases.

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