Navigating ECM Barriers at the Invasive Front: The Cancer Cell-Stroma Interface

Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2009;25:567-95. doi: 10.1146/annurev.cellbio.24.110707.175315.


A seminal event in cancer progression is the ability of the neoplastic cell to mobilize the necessary machinery to breach surrounding extracellular matrix barriers while orchestrating a host stromal response that ultimately supports tissue-invasive and metastatic processes. With over 500 proteolytic enzymes identified in the human genome, interconnecting webs of protease-dependent and protease-independent processes have been postulated to drive the cancer cell invasion program via schemes of daunting complexity. Increasingly, however, a body of evidence has begun to emerge that supports a unifying model wherein a small group of membrane-tethered enzymes, termed the membrane-type matrix metalloproteinases (MT-MMPs), plays a dominant role in regulating cancer cell, as well as stromal cell, traffic through the extracellular matrix barriers assembled by host tissues in vivo. Understanding the mechanisms that underlie the regulation and function of these metalloenzymes as host cell populations traverse the dynamic extracellular matrix assembled during neoplastic states should provide new and testable theories regarding cancer invasion and metastasis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basement Membrane / pathology
  • Extracellular Matrix / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Matrix Metalloproteinases, Membrane-Associated / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Stromal Cells / pathology


  • Matrix Metalloproteinases, Membrane-Associated