Symptom clusters in cancer patients and their relation to EGFR ligand modulation of the circadian axis

J Support Oncol. 2007 Apr;5(4):167-74; discussion 176-7.


Recent studies in chronobiology and the neurosciences have led to rapid growth in our understanding of the molecular biology of the human timekeeping apparatus and the neuroanatomic sites involved in signaling between the "master clock" in the hypothalamus and other parts of the brain. The circadian axis comprises a central clock mechanism and a downstream network of hypothalamic relay stations that modulate arousal, feeding, and sleeping behavior. Communication between the clock and these hypothalamic signaling centers is mediated, in part, by diffusible substances that include ligands of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Preclinical studies reveal that EGFR ligands such as transforming growth factor-alpha (TGF-alpha) inhibit hypothalamic signaling of rhythmic behavior; clinical observations show that elevated levels of TGF-alpha are associated with fatigue, flattened circadian rhythms, and loss of appetite in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. These data support the hypothesis that a symptom cluster of fatigue, appetite loss, and sleep disruption commonly seen in cancer patients may be related to EGFR ligands, released either by the cancer itself or by the host in response to the stress of cancer, and suggest that further examination of their role in the production of symptom clustering is warranted.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / genetics
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Ligands
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / therapy


  • Ligands
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Hydrocortisone