Role of the stromal microenvironment in carcinogenesis of the prostate

Int J Cancer. 2003 Oct 20;107(1):1-10. doi: 10.1002/ijc.11335.


The topic of this review is the role of stromal-epithelial interactions in normal and malignant prostatic growth. Because cell-cell interactions and androgens play such key roles in the prostate, the goal of this review will be to apply endocrinologic and developmental concepts to the understanding of normal and malignant prostatic growth. Prostatic development is induced by androgens, which act via androgen receptors. Androgens elicit prostatic epithelial growth during fetal and prepubertal periods, and in adulthood androgens act via reciprocal homeostatic stromal-epithelial interactions to maintain functional differentiation and growth quiescence. During carcinogenesis, these reciprocal homeostatic stromal-epithelial interactions are disrupted. In this review, 2 models of prostatic carcinogenesis will be reviewed, both of which emphasize the role of the stromal microenvironment in the carcinogenic process. Hormonal carcinogenesis of the prostate can be elicited by treatment of rats and mice with testosterone plus estradiol (T+E2). Using an immortalized but nontumorigenic human prostatic epithelial cell line (BPH-1), tissue recombinant studies were employed to explore the cellular mechanisms of prostatic carcinogenesis. Accordingly, human BPH-1 prostatic epithelial cells were combined with rat UGM, and the resultant UGM+BPH-1 recombinants were grown in adult male nude mouse hosts. In untreated mouse hosts, UGM+BPH-1 recombinants produced solid branched epithelial cords and ductal structures exhibiting benign growth. In T+E2-treated hosts, UGM+BPH-1 recombinants formed invasive carcinomas. Since BPH-1 cells lack androgen and estrogen receptors, whereas rat UGM expresses both of these receptors, it is proposed that hormonal carcinogenesis is elicited by T+E2 via paracrine mechanisms mediated by the stromal microenvironment. During prostatic carcinogenesis in rats and humans, the periepithelial stroma undergoes progressive loss in smooth muscle with the appearance of carcinoma-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). This abnormal stroma was shown to promote carcinogenesis in genetically abnormal but nontumorigenic epithelial cells. CAF+BPH-1 tissue recombinants grown in male hosts formed carcinomas, whereas benign growth and orderly tissue architecture developed in recombinants composed of normal prostatic stroma+BPH-1. Malignant transformation triggered by CAF was associated with additional genetic alterations and changes in gene expression in the BPH-1 cells. Thus, the stromal microenvironment is a critical determinant of benign versus malignant growth.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Stromal Cells / pathology*


  • Receptors, Androgen
  • Receptors, Estrogen