The stroma reaction myofibroblast: a key player in the control of tumor cell behavior

Int J Dev Biol. 2004;48(5-6):509-17. doi: 10.1387/ijdb.041802ad.


The cooperation between epithelial and mesenchymal cells is essential for embryonic development and probably plays an important role in pathological phenomena such as wound healing and tumor progression. It is well known that many epithelial tumors are characterized by the local accumulation of connective tissue cells and extracellular material; this phenomenon has been called the stroma reaction. One of the cellular components of the stroma reaction is the myofibroblast, a modulated fibroblast which has acquired the capacity to neoexpress alpha-smooth muscle actin, the actin isoform typical of vascular smooth muscle cells, and to synthesize important amounts of collagen and other extracellular matrix components. It is now well accepted that the myofibroblast is a key cell for the connective tissue remodeling which takes place during wound healing and fibrosis development. Myofibroblasts are capable of remodeling connective tissue but also interact with epithelial cells and other connective tissue cells and may thus control such phenomena as tumor invasion and angiogenesis. In this review we discuss the mechanisms of myofibroblast evolution during fibrotic and malignant conditions and the interaction of myofibroblasts with other cells in order to control tumor progression. On this basis we suggest that the myofibroblast may represent a new important target of antitumor therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD34 / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / physiology*
  • Fibrosis
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle, Smooth / metabolism
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Muscles / pathology*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Stromal Cells / pathology*
  • Wound Healing


  • Actins
  • Antigens, CD34