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Cell Mol Life Sci. 2006 Feb;63(4):449-68.

Metastasis: cell-autonomous mechanisms versus contributions by the tumor microenvironment.

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Institute of Biochemistry and Genetics, Department of Clinical-Biological Sciences, University of Basel, Mattenstrasse 28, 4058 Basel, Switzerland.


The fatality of cancer predominantly results from the dissemination of primary tumor cells to distant sites and the subsequent formation of metastases. During tumor progression, some of the primary tumor cells as well as the tumor microenvironment undergo characteristic molecular changes, which are essential for the metastatic dissemination of tumor cells. In this review, we will discuss recent insights into pro-metastatic events occurring in tumor cells themselves and in the tumor stroma. Tumor cell-intrinsic alterations include the loss of cell polarity and alterations in cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesion as well as deregulated receptor kinase signaling, which together support detachment, migration and invasion of tumor cells. On the other hand, the tumor stroma, including endothelial cells, fibroblasts and cells of the immune system, is engaged in an active molecular crosstalk within the tumor microenvironment. Subsequent activation of blood vessel and lymph vessel angiogenesis together with inflammatory and immune-suppressive responses further promotes cancer cell migration and invasion, as well as initiation of the metastatic process.

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