Background: Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChRs) have attracted interest as targets for therapeutic interventions in different illnesses like Alzheimer´s disease, viral infections and different tumors. Regarding the latter, many authors have studied each subtype of mAChRs, which seem to be involved in the progression of distinct types of malignancies.
Methods: We carefully revised research literature focused on mAChRs expression and signaling as well as in their involvement in cancer progression and treatment. The characteristics of screened papers were described using the mentioned conceptual framework.
Results: Muscarinic antagonists and agonists have been assayed for the treatment of tumors established in lung, brain and breast with beneficial effects. We described an up-regulation of mAChRs in mammary tumors and the lack of expression in non-tumorigenic breast cells and normal mammary tissues. We and others demonstrated that muscarinic agonists can trigger anti-tumor actions in a dose-dependent manner on tumors originated in different organs like brain or breast. At pharmacological concentrations they exert similar effects to traditional chemotherapeutic agents. Metronomic chemotherapy refers to the administration of anti-cancer drugs at low doses with short intervals among them, and it is a different regimen applied in cancer treatment reducing malignant growth and angiogenesis, and very low incidence of adverse effects.
Conclusion: The usage of subthreshold concentrations of muscarinic agonists combined with conventional chemotherapeutic agents could be a promising tool for breast cancer therapy.