Macrophages define the invasive microenvironment in breast cancer

J Leukoc Biol. 2008 Sep;84(3):623-30. doi: 10.1189/jlb.1107762. Epub 2008 May 8.


In many human cancers, the abundance of macrophages in the tumor microenvironment is correlated with poor prognosis. Experimental evidence for the causal relationship between macrophages and poor prognosis came from mouse models of breast cancer in which genetic ablation of macrophages resulted in attenuation of tumor progression and metastasis, and premature recruitment to hyperplastic lesions accelerated these processes. Malignancy is defined by the invasion of tumor cells into the stroma, a process that allows escape of these cells into the circulation and dissemination to distant sites. In this review, I argue that macrophages are recruited to the invasive front by expression of tumor-derived chemotactic factors and in response to the disruption of the basement membrane. At this invasive site, macrophages enhance tumor cell migration and invasion through their secretion of chemotactic and chemokinetic factors including epidermal growth factor (EGF). They promote angiogenesis by the synthesis of angiogenic factors including vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and they remodel the extracellular matrix and in particular, regulate collagen fibrillogenesis. A combination of these factors provides a triple-whammy, as the more mobile and invasive tumor cells track along collagen fibers that are also anchored to blood vessels, which are fabricated at sites of invasion and through which macrophages potentiate tumor cell intravasation. All of these activities suggest that macrophage functions are significant targets for the generation of novel therapeutics that should improve the current cytotoxic armamentarium.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Chemotaxis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / metabolism