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Lab Invest. 2007 Nov;87(11):1077-91. Epub 2007 Aug 27.

Pathobiology of transforming growth factor beta in cancer, fibrosis and immunologic disease, and therapeutic considerations.

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Department of Laboratory Medicine, St Michael's Hospital and University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada.


Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) is a highly pleiotropic cytokine that plays an important role in wound healing, angiogenesis, immunoregulation and cancer. The cells of the immune system produce the TGF-beta1 isoform, which exerts powerful anti-inflammatory functions, and is a master regulator of the immune response. However, this is context dependent, because TGF-beta can contribute to the differentiation of both regulatory (suppressive) T cells (Tr cells) and inflammatory Th17 cells. While TGF-beta might be underproduced in some autoimmune diseases, it is overproduced in many pathological conditions. This includes pulmonary fibrosis, glomerulosclerosis, renal interstitial fibrosis, cirrhosis, Crohn's disease, cardiomyopathy, scleroderma and chronic graft-vs-host disease. In neoplastic disease, TGF-beta suppresses the progression of early lesions, but later this effect is lost and cancer cells produce TGF-beta, which then promotes metastasis. This cytokine also contributes to the formation of the tumor stroma, angiogenesis and immunosuppression. In view of this, several approaches are being studied to inhibit TGF-beta activity, including neutralizing antibodies, soluble receptors, receptor kinase antagonist drugs, antisense reagents and a number of less specific drugs such as angiotensin II antagonists and tranilast. It might be assumed that TGF-beta blockade would result in severe inflammatory disease, but this has not been the case, presumably because the neutralization is only partial. In contrast, the systemic administration of TGF-beta for therapeutic purposes is limited by toxicity and safety concerns, but local administration appears feasible, especially to promote wound healing. Immunotherapy or vaccination stimulating TGF-beta production and/or Tr differentiation might be applied to the treatment of autoimmune diseases. The benefits of new therapies targeting TGF-beta are under intense investigation.

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