Hematopoietic colony-stimulating factors mediate tumor-nerve interactions and bone cancer pain

Nat Med. 2009 Jul;15(7):802-7. doi: 10.1038/nm.1976. Epub 2009 Jun 7.


Pain is one of the most severe and debilitating symptoms associated with several forms of cancer. Various types of carcinomas and sarcomas metastasize to skeletal bones and cause spontaneous bone pain and hyperalgesia, which is accompanied by bone degradation and remodeling of peripheral nerves. Despite recent advances, the molecular mechanisms underlying the development and maintenance of cancer-evoked pain are not well understood. Several types of non-hematopoietic tumors secrete hematopoietic colony-stimulating factors that act on myeloid cells and tumor cells. Here we report that receptors and signaling mediators of granulocyte- and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factors (G-CSF and GM-CSF) are also functionally expressed on sensory nerves. GM-CSF sensitized nerves to mechanical stimuli in vitro and in vivo, potentiated CGRP release and caused sprouting of sensory nerve endings in the skin. Interruption of G-CSF and GM-CSF signaling in vivo led to reduced tumor growth and nerve remodeling, and abrogated bone cancer pain. The key significance of GM-CSF signaling in sensory neurons was revealed by an attenuation of tumor-evoked pain following a sensory nerve-specific knockdown of GM-CSF receptors. These results show that G-CSF and GM-CSF are important in tumor-nerve interactions and suggest that their receptors on primary afferent nerve fibers constitute potential therapeutic targets in cancer pain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bone Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide / metabolism
  • Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor / physiology*
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / physiology*
  • Pain, Intractable / etiology*
  • Receptors, Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor / physiology
  • Receptors, Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / physiology
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Receptors, Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor
  • Receptors, Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor
  • Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor
  • Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor
  • Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide