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Clin Sarcoma Res. 2012 Dec 18;2(1):24. doi: 10.1186/2045-3329-2-24.

The CXCR4-CXCL12 axis in Ewing sarcoma: promotion of tumor growth rather than metastatic disease.

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Department of Pediatrics, Leiden University Medical Center, Albinusdreef 2, 2300, RC, Leiden, the Netherlands.



Chemokine receptor CXCR4, together with its ligand CXCL12, plays critical roles in cancer progression, including growth, metastasis and angiogenesis. Ewing sarcoma is a sarcoma with poor prognosis despite current therapies, particularly for patients with advanced-stage disease. Lungs and bone (marrow), organs of predilection for (primary/metastatic) Ewing sarcoma, represent predominant CXCL12 sources.


To gain insight into the role of the CXCR4-CXCL12 axis in Ewing sarcoma, CXCR4, CXCL12 and hypoxia-inducible factor-1α protein expression was studied in therapy-naïve and metastatic tumors by immunohistochemistry. CXCR4 function was assessed in vitro, by flow cytometry and proliferation/ cell viability assays, in the presence of recombinant CXCL12 and/or CXCR4-antagonist AMD3100 or under hypoxic conditions.


Whereas CXCR4 was predominantly expressed by tumor cells, CXCL12 was observed in both tumor and stromal areas. Survival analysis revealed an (expression level-dependent) negative impact of CXCR4 expression (p < 0.04). A role for the CXCR4-CXCL12 axis in Ewing sarcoma growth was suggested by our observations that i) CXCR4 expression correlated positively with tumor volume at diagnosis (p = 0.013), ii) CXCL12 was present within the microenvironment of virtually all cases, iii) CXCL12 induced proliferation of CXCR4-positive Ewing sarcoma cell lines, which could be abrogated by AMD3100. CXCR4 expression was not correlated with occurrence of metastatic disease. Also, therapy-naïve tumors demonstrated higher CXCR4 expression as compared to metastases (p = 0.027). Evaluation of in vivo hypoxia-inducible factor-1α expression and culture of cells under hypoxic conditions revealed no role for hypoxia in CXCR4 expression.


Together, our results imply a crucial role for the CXCR4-CXCL12 axis in auto- and/or paracrine growth stimulation. Integration of CXCR4-targeting strategies into first- and/or second-line treatment regimens may represent a promising treatment option for Ewing sarcoma.

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