This study examined the antitumor effect of methionine enkephalin (MENK) against lung cancer in vivo and in vitro and explored the underlying mechanisms. Changes in the immune status of the tumor microenvironment (TME) in response to MENK administration were examined in mice. MENK significantly inhibited the proliferation of lung cancer cells in vivo and in vitro by regulating the Wnt/β-catenin pathway and causing cell cycle arrest at the G0/G1 phase. Knockdown of opioid growth factor receptor abolished the effect of MENK on lung cancer cells. The immune status of the TME of mice differed between the MENK and control groups. MENK increased the infiltration of M1-type macrophages, natural killer cells, CD8+ T cells, CD4+ T cells, and dendritic cells into the TME, and decreased the proportion of myeloid inhibitory cells and M2-type macrophages. Immunohistochemical analysis of the expression of cytokines in the TME showed that MENK upregulated IL-15, IL-21, IFN-γ, and granzyme B and downregulated IL-10 and TGF-β1 in mice. Taken together, these finding indicate that MENK may be a potential agent for lung cancer treatment in the future, especially for overcoming immune escape and immune resistance.
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