Metastasis is the main cause of death in cancer patients; there is currently no effective treatment for cancer metastasis. This is primarily due to our insufficient understanding of the metastatic mechanisms in cancer. An increasing number of studies have shown that the C-X-C motif chemokine ligand 12 (CXCL12) is overexpressed in various tissues and organs. It is a key niche factor that nurtures the pre-metastatic niches (tumorigenic soil) and recruits tumor cells (oncogenic “seeds”) to these niches, thereby fostering cancer cell aggression and metastatic capabilities. However, the C-X-C motif chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4) is aberrantly overexpressed in various cancer stem/progenitor cells and functions as a CXCL12 receptor. CXCL12 activates CXCR4 as well as multiple downstream multiple tumorigenic signaling pathways, promoting expression of various oncogenes. Activation of the CXCL12-CXCR4 signaling axis promotes epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and mobilization of cancer stem/progenitor cells to pre-metastatic niches. It also nurtures cancer cells with high motility, invasion, and dissemination phenotypes, thereby escalating multiple proximal or distal cancer metastasis; this results in poor patient prognosis. Based on this evidence, recent studies have explored either CXCL12- or CXCR4-targeted anti-cancer therapeutics and have achieved encouraging results in the preclinical trials. Further exploration of this new strategy and its potent therapeutics effect against metastatic cancer via the targeting of the CXCL12-CXCR4 signaling axis may lead to a novel therapy that can clean up the tumor microenvironment (“soil”) and kill the cancer cells, particularly the cancer stem/progenitor cells (“seeds”), in cancer patients. Ultimately, this approach has the potential to effectively treat metastatic cancer.
Keywords: CXCL12, CXCR4, Cancer Metastasis, Therapeutics, Cancer Therapy, Signaling Axis
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