Trafficking of normal stem cells and metastasis of cancer stem cells involve similar mechanisms: pivotal role of the SDF-1-CXCR4 axis

Stem Cells. 2005 Aug;23(7):879-94. doi: 10.1634/stemcells.2004-0342. Epub 2005 May 11.


The alpha-chemokine stromal-derived factor (SDF)-1 and the G-protein-coupled seven-span transmembrane receptor CXCR4 axis regulates the trafficking of various cell types. In this review, we present the concept that the SDF-1-CXCR4 axis is a master regulator of trafficking of both normal and cancer stem cells. Supporting this is growing evidence that SDF-1 plays a pivotal role in the regulation of trafficking of normal hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and their homing/retention in bone marrow. Moreover, functional CXCR4 is also expressed on nonhematopoietic tissue-committed stem/progenitor cells (TCSCs); hence, the SDF-1-CXCR4 axis emerges as a pivotal regulator of trafficking of various types of stem cells in the body. Furthermore, because most if not all malignancies originate in the stem/progenitor cell compartment, cancer stem cells also express CXCR4 on their surface and, as a result, the SDF-1-CXCR4 axis is also involved in directing their trafficking/metastasis to organs that highly express SDF-1 (e.g., lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and bones). Hence, we postulate that the metastasis of cancer stem cells and trafficking of normal stem cells involve similar mechanisms, and we discuss here the common molecular mechanisms involved in these processes. Finally, the responsiveness of CXCR4+ normal and malignant stem cells to an SDF-1 gradient may be regulated positively/primed by several small molecules related to inflammation which enhance incorporation of CXCR4 into membrane lipid rafts, or may be inhibited/blocked by small CXCR4 antagonist peptides. Consequently, strategies aimed at modulating the SDF-1-CXCR4 axis could have important clinical applications both in regenerative medicine to deliver normal stem cells to the tissues/organs and in clinical hematology/oncology to inhibit metastasis of cancer stem cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Marrow / pathology
  • Bone Marrow Cells / cytology
  • Bone Marrow Cells / metabolism
  • Cell Adhesion
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Survival
  • Chemokine CXCL12
  • Chemokines, CXC / metabolism*
  • Chemotaxis
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Ligands
  • Membrane Microdomains
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Receptors, CXCR4 / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Tissue Distribution


  • CXCL12 protein, human
  • Chemokine CXCL12
  • Chemokines, CXC
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, CXCR4