Heterotypic signaling between epithelial tumor cells and fibroblasts in carcinoma formation

Exp Cell Res. 2001 Mar 10;264(1):169-84. doi: 10.1006/excr.2000.5133.


Tumors arise from cells that have sustained genetic mutations resulting in deregulation of several of their normal growth-controlling mechanisms. Much of the research concerning the origins of cancer has focused on the genetic mutations within tumor cells, treating tumorigenesis as a cell-autonomous process governed by the genes carried by the tumor cells themselves. However, it is increasingly apparent that the stromal microenvironment in which the tumor cells develop profoundly influences many steps of tumor progression. In various experimental tumor models, the microenvironment affects the efficiency of tumor formation, the rate of tumor growth, the extent of invasiveness, and the ability of tumor cells to metastasize. In carcinomas, the influences of the microenvironment are mediated, in large part, by paracrine signaling between epithelial tumor cells and neighboring stromal fibroblasts. In this review, we summarize recent advances in understanding the paracrine signaling interactions between epithelial cancer cells and associated fibroblasts and examine the effects of these bidirectional interactions on various aspects of carcinoma formation. We note, however, that paracrine signaling between other cell types within the carcinomas, such as endothelial cells and inflammatory cells, may play equally important roles in tumor formation and we will refer to these heterotypic interactions where relevant.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Carcinoma / blood supply
  • Carcinoma / etiology*
  • Carcinoma / metabolism
  • Cell Division
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Growth Substances / biosynthesis
  • Humans
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic
  • Paracrine Communication
  • Stromal Cells / metabolism


  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Growth Substances
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases