Cancer Metastasis: CXCR4

CXCR4, also called fusin, is an alpha-chemokine receptor specific for stromal-derived-factor-1 (SDF-1 also called CXCL12), a molecule endowed with potent chemotactic activity for lymphocytes.

Metastasis shares many similarities with leukocyte trafficking. Among those chemokine receptors thought to be involved in hemopoietic cell homing, stromal cell-derived factor-1 and its receptor CXC chemokine receptor-4 (CXCR4) have received considerable attention. Like hemopoietic cell homing, levels of stromal cell-derived factor-1 are high at sites of breast cancer metastasis including lymph node, lung, liver, and the marrow. Moreover, CXCR4 expression is low in normal breast tissues and high in malignant tumors, suggesting that a blockade of CXCR4 might limit tumor metastasis investigating the role of a synthetic antagonist 14-mer peptide (TN14003) in inhibiting metastasis in an animal model. Not only was TN14003 effective in limiting metastasis of breast cancer by inhibiting migration, but it may also prove useful as a diagnostic tool to identify CXCR4 receptor-positive tumor cells in culture and tumors in paraffin-embedded clinical samples.

CXC chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4) has been shown to play a critical role in chemotaxis and homing, which are key steps in cancer metastasis. There is also increasing evidence that links this receptor to angiogenesis; however, its molecular basis remains elusive. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), one of the major angiogenic factors, promotes the formation of leaky tumor vasculatures that are the hallmarks of tumor progression. On investigating whether CXCR4 induces the expression of VEGF through the PI3K/Akt pathway. Results showed that CXCR4/CXCL12 induced Akt phosphorylation, which resulted in upregulation of VEGF at both the mRNA and protein levels. Conversely, blocking the activation of Akt signaling led to a decrease in VEGF protein levels; blocking CXCR4/CXCL12 interaction with a CXCR4 antagonist suppressed tumor angiogenesis and growth in vivo. Furthermore, VEGF mRNA levels correlated well with CXCR4 mRNA levels in patient tumor samples. In summary, our study demonstrates that the CXCR4/CXCL12 signaling axis can induce angiogenesis and progression of tumors by increasing expression of VEGF through the activation of PI3K/Akt pathway. Findings suggest that targeting CXCR4 could provide a potential new anti-angiogenic therapy to suppress the formation of both primary and metastatic tumors.

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