Metalloproteinases (MMPs) are a cluster of at least 23 enzymes belonging to the more wide family of endopeptidases called Metzincins, whose structure is characterized by the presence of a zinc ion at the catalytic site. Although the general view of MMPs as physiologic scissors involved in extracellular matrix (ECM) degradation and tissue remodeling is still valid, additional functions have recently emerged, including the ability to cleave non ECM molecules such as growth factors, cytokines and chemokines from their membrane-anchored proforms. These functions are utilized by tumor cells and are fundamental in the determination of tumor progression and invasion. The effect of MMPs activity in cancer progression has been traditionally associated with the acquisition by tumor cells of an invasive phenotype, an indispensable requisite for the metastatic spreading of cancer cells. In addition to the traditional view, a new role for MMPs in creating a favourable microenvironment has been proposed, so that MMPs are not only involved in cell invasion, but also in signaling pathways that control cell growth, inflammation, or angiogenesis. Finally, recent evidence suggest a role of MMPs in the so called “pre-metastatic niche” that is the hypothesis of an early distant modification of the premetastatic site by primary cancer cells. This new hypothesis is changing our traditional view about MMPs and provides important insights into the effective time window for the therapeutic use of MMP inhibitors.
In this review we provide the main available data about the ability of MMPs in creating a suitable microenvironment for tumor growth in metastatic sites and we indicate the implication of these data on the potential use of MMP inhibitors in the metastatic therapy.
Keywords: Bone, carcinoma-associated fibroblasts, extracellular matrix, metastasis, metalloproteinase, metastatic niche, metalloproteinase inhibitor, homeostasis, tumor progression, metastatic diffusion, prognostic markers, phenotype, microenvironment, signaling pathways, imaging technology
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