The case for gastrin-releasing peptide acting as a morphogen when it and its receptor are aberrantly expressed in cancer

Peptides. 2001 Apr;22(4):689-99. doi: 10.1016/s0196-9781(01)00380-1.


Gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) and its receptor (GRP-R) are frequently expressed by cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, breast, lung, and prostate. Most studies have found that GRP and its amphibian homologue bombesin act to increase tumor cell proliferation, leading to the hypothesis that this peptide hormone is a mitogen important for the growth of various cancers. Yet GRP/GRP-R co-expression in cancer promotes the development of a well-differentiated phenotype; while multiple studies suggest that the presence of these 2 proteins confer a survival advantage. Along with recent reports showing that GRP and its receptor critically regulate aspects of colon and lung organogenesis, we argue that these proteins do not function primarily as mitogens when aberrantly expressed in cancer. Rather, we postulate that GRP/GRP-R are onco-fetal antigens that function as morphogens, with their effect on tumor cell proliferation being a component property of their ability to regulate differentiation. Thus aberrant GRP/GRP-R expression in cancer recapitulates, albeit in a dysfunctional manner, their normal role in development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Gastrin-Releasing Peptide / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Bombesin / chemistry
  • Receptors, Bombesin / physiology*


  • Receptors, Bombesin
  • Gastrin-Releasing Peptide