Stromal fibroblasts in cancer: a novel tumor-promoting cell type

Cell Cycle. 2006 Aug;5(15):1597-601. doi: 10.4161/cc.5.15.3112. Epub 2006 Aug 1.


Tumors are highly complex tissues composed of neoplastic cells and, in the case of carcinomas, stromal cell compartments containing a variety of mesenchymal cells, notably fibroblasts, myofibroblasts, endothelial cells, pericytes, and a variety of inflammatory cells associated with the immune system. Fibroblasts and myofibroblasts often represent the majority of the stromal cells within various types of human carcinomas, yet the specific contributions of these cells to tumor growth are poorly understood. Recent work has demonstrated that stromal fibroblast fractions, named carcinoma-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), that have been extracted from a number of invasive human breast carcinomas are more competent to promote the growth of mammary carcinoma cells and to enhance tumor angiogenesis than are comparable cells derived from outside of these tumor masses. CAFs include large populations of myofibroblasts that secrete elevated levels of stromal cell-derived factor 1 (SDF-1), also called CXCL12, which plays a central role in the promotion of tumor growth and angiogenesis; CAF-derived SDF-1 not only stimulates carcinoma cell growth directly through the CXCR4 receptor displayed on tumor cells but also serves to recruit endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) into tumors, thereby furthering neoangiogenesis. In this review, we highlight the importance of this SDF-1-CXCR4 signaling pathway in the tumor microenvironment and discuss the mechanisms by which stromal fibroblasts within mammary carcinomas enhance tumor growth.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chemokine CXCL12
  • Chemokines, CXC / metabolism
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Fibroblasts / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Receptors, CXCR4 / metabolism
  • Stromal Cells / pathology*


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