Transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) is an effective and ubiquitous mediator of cell growth. The significance of this cytokine in cancer susceptibility, cancer development and progression has become apparent over the past few years. TGF-beta plays various roles in the process of malignant progression. It is a potent inhibitor of normal stromal, hematopoietic, and epithelial cell growth. However, at some point during cancer development the majority of transformed cells become either partly or completely resistant to TGF-beta growth inhibition. There is growing evidence that in the later stages of cancer development TGF-beta is actively secreted by tumor cells and not merely acts as a bystander but rather contributes to cell growth, invasion, and metastasis and decreases host-tumor immune responses. Subtle alteration of TGF-beta signaling may also contribute to the development of cancer. These various effects are tissue and tumor dependent. Identifying and understanding TGF-beta signaling pathway abnormalities in various malignancies is a promising avenue of study that may yield new modalities to both prevent and treat cancer. The nature, prevalence, and significance of TGF-beta signaling pathway alterations in various forms of human cancer as well as potential preventive and therapeutic interventions are discussed in this review.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.