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Carcinogenesis. 2012 May;33(5):949-55. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgs123. Epub 2012 Mar 16.

Tumor-associated neutrophils: friend or foe?

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  • 1Institute of Pulmonary Medicine, Department of Medicine, Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, Jerusalem 91120, Israel. fridlender@hadassah.org.il


Neutrophils play an established role in host defense and in killing invading microorganisms. Although neutrophils are traditionally considered in the context of their antibacterial functions, it is becoming increasingly clear that tumor-associated neutrophils (TAN) play a major role in cancer biology. Neutrophils make up a significant portion of the inflammatory cell infiltrate in many models of cancer. Like all other leukocytes, they move into tissues under the influence of specific chemokines, cytokines and cell adhesion molecules. The tumor microenvironment has been shown to be responsible for their recruitment in cancer. We have found that TAN are a distinct population of neutrophils, differing markedly in their transcriptomic profile from both naive neutrophils and the granulocytic fraction of myeloid-derived suppressor cells. Studies have demonstrated specific examples of tumor-mediated signals (such as transforming growth factor-β) that induce the formation of a pro-tumorigenic (N2) phenotype capable of supporting tumor growth and suppressing the antitumor immune response. However, there are also studies showing that TAN can also have an antitumorigenic (N1) phenotype. Herein, we explore the literature on the different mechanisms of TAN recruitment to tumors, the unique characteristics of TAN and what shapes their pro- and/or antitumor effects.

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