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J Endocrinol Invest. 2008 Sep;31(9):809-19.

The critical role of SDF-1/CXCR4 axis in cancer and cancer stem cells metastasis.

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Clinical Biochemistry Unit, Department of Clinical Pathophysiology, University of Florence, Florence, Italy.


Chemokines exert their multifunctional role in several physiologic and pathologic processes through interaction with their specific receptors. Much evidence have revealed that metastatic spread tumor cells may use chemokine-mediated mechanisms. In particular, an involvement of stromal cell-derived factor-1 (SDF-1) in growth of primary tumors and in metastatic process has been demonstrated. Indeed, it has been suggested that CXCR4 expression by tumor cells, plays a critical role in cell metastasis by a chemotactic gradient to organs expressing the ligand SDF-1. Moreover, CXCR4 overexpression correlated with poor prognosis in many types of cancer. In physiologic condition, SDF-1 also plays an essential role modulating stem cell proliferation, survival, and homing through its canonical receptor CXCR4. Recently, several studies have demonstrated the existence of a small subset of cancer cells which share many characteristics with stem cells and named cancer stem cells (CSC). They constitute a reservoir of self-sustaining cells with the ability to maintain the tumor growth. In particular, most of them express CXCR4 receptor and respond to a chemotactic gradient of its specific ligand SDF-1, suggesting that CSC probably represent a subpopulation capable of initiating metastasis. This review focuses on the role of SDF-1/CXCR4 axis in cancer and in the metastatic progression by tumoral cells, as well as the role of CSC in tumor pathogenesis and in metastatic process. A better understanding of migratory mechanism involving cancer cells and CSC provides a powerful tool for developing novel therapies reducing both local and distant recurrences.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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