Carcinoma-associated fibroblasts: Non-neoplastic tumour-promoting mesenchymal cells

Authors

  • Urszula M. Polanska,

    Corresponding author
    1. CR-UK Stromal–Tumour Interaction Group, Paterson Institute for Cancer Research, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
    • CR-UK Stromal–Tumour Interaction Group, Paterson Institute for Cancer Research, The University of Manchester, Wilmslow Road, Manchester M20 4BX, UK.
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  • Akira Orimo

    Corresponding author
    1. CR-UK Stromal–Tumour Interaction Group, Paterson Institute for Cancer Research, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
    2. Department of Pathology and Oncology, Juntendo University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan
    3. Atopy Research Centre, Juntendo University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan
    • CR-UK Stromal–Tumour Interaction Group, Paterson Institute for Cancer Research, The University of Manchester, Wilmslow Road, Manchester M20 4BX, UK.
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  • The authors declare no conflict of interests.

Abstract

Cancerous stroma coevolves alongside tumour progression, thereby promoting the malignant conversion of epithelial carcinoma cells. To date, an abundance of data have supported crucial roles of the tumour microenvironment (TME) in providing cancer cells with proliferative, migratory, survival and invasive propensities favouring the processes of tumourigenesis. The cancerous reactive stroma is frequently populated by a large number of myofibroblasts (MFs), which are activated, non-transformed fibroblasts expressing α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA). MFs together with non-MF cells present in the tumour-associated stroma are collectively referred to as carcinoma-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), one of the major stromal cell types recognised in various human carcinomas. Recruitment of fibroblasts and/or their progenitors to a tumour mass and their subsequent transdifferentiation into MFs, as well as ongoing maintenance of their activated state, are believed to be essential processes facilitating tumour progression. However, the complex networks of signalling pathways mediating the phenotypic conversion into CAFs, as well as those underlying their tumour-promoting interactions with other tumour-constituting cells, have yet to be fully explored. Histopathological confirmation of the presence of large numbers of CAF MFs within TME and their altered gene expression profiles are known to be associated with disease progression and to serve as independent negative prognostic factors for a wide range of tumour types. In this review, we examine the current evidence shedding light on the emerging roles of tumour-promoting CAFs, cells that are pivotal for epithelial cancer development and progression, and discuss the therapeutic potential of targeting these cells. J. Cell. Physiol. 228: 1651–1657, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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