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Oncol Lett. 2013 Apr;5(4):1101-1111. Epub 2013 Jan 31.

Role of the nervous system in cancer metastasis.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Lanzhou General Hospital of PLA, Lanzhou, Gansu 730050;


The notion that tumors lack innervation was proposed several years ago. However, nerve fibers are irregulatedly found in some tumor tissues. Their terminals interaction with cancer cells are considered to be neuro-neoplastic synapses. Moreover, neural-related factors, which are important players in the development and activity of the nervous system, have been found in cancer cells. Thus, they establish a direct connection between the nervous system and tumor cells. They modulate the process of metastasis, including degradation of base membranes, cancer cell invasion, migration, extravasation and colonization. Peripheral nerve invasion provides another pathway for the spread of cancer cells when blood and lymphatic metastases are absent, which is based on the interactions between the microenvironments of nerve fibers and tumor cells. The nervous system also modulates angiogenesis, the tumor microenvironment, bone marrow, immune functions and inflammatory pathways to influence metastases. Denervation of the tumor has been reported to enhance cancer metastasis. Stress, social isolation and other emotional factors may increase distant metastasis through releasing hormones from the brain, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and autonomic nervous system. Disruption of circadian rhythms will also promote cancer metastasis through direct and indirect actions of the nervous system. Therefore, the nervous system plays an important role in cancer metastasis.


cancer metastasis; nervous system

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