Evidence from clinical, animal and cell culture studies demonstrates that increased autotaxin (ATX) expression is responsible for enhancing tumor progression, cell migration, metastases, angiogenesis and chemo-resistance. These effects depend mainly on the rapid formation of lysophosphatidate (LPA) by ATX. Circulating LPA has a half-life of about 3 min in mice and it is degraded by the ecto-activities of lipid phosphate phosphatases (LPPs). These enzymes also hydrolyze extracellular sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P), a potent signal for cell division, survival and angiogenesis. Many aggressive tumor cells express high ATX levels and low LPP activities. This favors the formation of locally high LPA and S1P concentrations. Furthermore, LPPs attenuate signaling downstream of the activation of G-protein coupled receptors and receptor tyrosine kinases. Therefore, we propose that the low expression of LPPs in many tumor cells makes them hypersensitive to growth promoting and survival signals that are provided by LPA, S1P, platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and epidermal growth factor (EGF). One of the key signaling pathways in this respect appears to be activation of phospholipase D (PLD) and phosphatidate (PA) production. This is required for the transactivations of the EGFR and PDGFR and also for LPA-induced cell migration. PA also increases the activities of ERK, mTOR, myc and sphingosine kinase-1 (SK-1), which provide individual signals for cells division, survival, chemo-resistance and angiogenesis. This review focuses on the balance of signaling by bioactive lipids including LPA, phosphatidylinositol 3,4,5-trisphosphate, PA and S1P versus the action of ceramides. We will discuss how these lipid mediators interact to produce an aggressive neoplastic phenotype.
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