Clinical, cellular, and molecular aspects of cancer invasion

Physiol Rev. 2003 Apr;83(2):337-76. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00024.2002.


Invasion causes cancer malignancy. We review recent data about cellular and molecular mechanisms of invasion, focusing on cross-talk between the invaders and the host. Cancer disturbs these cellular activities that maintain multicellular organisms, namely, growth, differentiation, apoptosis, and tissue integrity. Multiple alterations in the genome of cancer cells underlie tumor development. These genetic alterations occur in varying orders; many of them concomitantly influence invasion as well as the other cancer-related cellular activities. Examples discussed are genes encoding elements of the cadherin/catenin complex, the nonreceptor tyrosine kinase Src, the receptor tyrosine kinases c-Met and FGFR, the small GTPase Ras, and the dual phosphatase PTEN. In microorganisms, invasion genes belong to the class of virulence genes. There are numerous clinical and experimental observations showing that invasion results from the cross-talk between cancer cells and host cells, comprising myofibroblasts, endothelial cells, and leukocytes, all of which are themselves invasive. In bone metastases, host osteoclasts serve as targets for therapy. The molecular analysis of invasion-associated cellular activities, namely, homotypic and heterotypic cell-cell adhesion, cell-matrix interactions and ectopic survival, migration, and proteolysis, reveal branching signal transduction pathways with extensive networks between individual pathways. Cellular responses to invasion-stimulatory molecules such as scatter factor, chemokines, leptin, trefoil factors, and bile acids or inhibitory factors such as platelet activating factor and thrombin depend on activation of trimeric G proteins, phosphoinositide 3-kinase, and the Rac and Rho family of small GTPases. The role of proteolysis in invasion is not limited to breakdown of extracellular matrix but also causes cleavage of proinvasive fragments from cell surface glycoproteins.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Adhesion / physiology
  • Cell Movement / physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Genes, Tumor Suppressor
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*