Monocytes are recruited into tumors from the circulation along defined chemotactic gradients and they then differentiate into tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs). Recent evidence has shown that large numbers of TAMs are attracted to and retained in avascular and necrotic areas, where they are exposed to tumor hypoxia. At these sites, TAMs appear to undergo marked phenotypic changes with activation of hypoxia-inducible transcription factors, dramatically upregulating the expression of a large number of genes encoding mitogenic, proangiogenic and prometastatic cytokines and enzymes. As a consequence, high TAMs density has been correlated with increased tumor growth and angiogenesis in various tumor types. Since hypoxia is a hallmark feature of malignant tumors and hypoxic tumor cells are relatively resistant to radio- and chemotherapy, these areas have become a target for novel forms of anticancer therapy. These include hypoxia-targeted gene therapy in which macrophages are armed with therapeutic genes that are activated by hypoxia-responsive promoter elements. This restricts transgene expression to hypoxic areas, where the gene product is then released and acts on neighboring hypoxic tumor cells or proliferating blood vessels. In this way, the responses of macrophages to tumor hypoxia can be exploited to deliver potent antitumor agents to these poorly vascularized, and thus largely inaccessible, areas of tumors.
Copyright 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc