Cell polarity and cancer--cell and tissue polarity as a non-canonical tumor suppressor

J Cell Sci. 2008 Apr 15;121(Pt 8):1141-50. doi: 10.1242/jcs.016634.


Correct establishment and maintenance of cell polarity is required for the development and homeostasis of all metazoans. Cell-polarity mechanisms are responsible not only for the diversification of cell shapes but also for regulation of the asymmetric cell divisions of stem cells that are crucial for their correct self-renewal and differentiation. Disruption of cell polarity is a hallmark of cancer. Furthermore, recent evidence indicates that loss of cell polarity is intimately involved in cancer: several crucial cell-polarity proteins are known proto-oncogenes or tumor suppressors, basic mechanisms of cell polarity are often targeted by oncogenic signaling pathways, and deregulation of asymmetric cell divisions of stem or progenitor cells may be responsible for abnormal self-renewal and differentiation of cancer stem cells. Data from in vivo and three-dimensional (3D) cell-culture models demonstrate that tissue organization attenuates the phenotypic outcome of oncogenic signaling. We suggest that polarized 3D tissue organization uses cell-cell and cell-substratum adhesion structures to reinforce and maintain the cell polarity of pre-cancerous cells. In this model, polarized 3D tissue organization functions as a non-canonical tumor suppressor that prevents the manifestation of neoplastic features in mutant cells and, ultimately, suppresses tumor development and progression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Polarity*
  • Genes, Tumor Suppressor*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / cytology