Proteoglycans in health and disease: novel roles for proteoglycans in malignancy and their pharmacological targeting

FEBS J. 2010 Oct;277(19):3904-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-4658.2010.07800.x. Epub 2010 Aug 31.


The expression of proteoglycans (PGs), essential macromolecules of the tumor microenvironment, is markedly altered during malignant transformation and tumor progression. Synthesis of stromal PGs is affected by factors secreted by cancer cells and the unique tumor-modified extracellular matrix may either facilitate or counteract the growth of solid tumors. The emerging theme is that this dual activity has intrinsic tissue specificity. Matrix-accumulated PGs, such as versican, perlecan and small leucine-rich PGs, affect cancer cell signaling, growth and survival, cell adhesion, migration and angiogenesis. Furthermore, expression of cell-surface-associated PGs, such as syndecans and glypicans, is also modulated in both tumor and stromal cells. Cell-surface-associated PGs bind various factors that are involved in cell signaling, thereby affecting cell proliferation, adhesion and motility. An important mechanism of action is offered by a proteolytic processing of cell-surface PGs known as ectodomain shedding of syndecans; this facilitates cancer and endothelial cell motility, protects matrix proteases and provides a chemotactic gradient of mitogens. However, syndecans on stromal cells may be important for stromal cell/cancer cell interplay and may promote stromal cell proliferation, migration and angiogenesis. Finally, abnormal PG expression in cancer and stromal cells may serve as a biomarker for tumor progression and patient survival. Enhanced understanding of the regulation of PG metabolism and the involvement of PGs in cancer may offer a novel approach to cancer therapy by targeting the tumor microenvironment. In this minireview, the implication of PGs in cancer development and progression, as well as their pharmacological targeting in malignancy, are presented and discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggrecans / metabolism
  • Aggrecans / therapeutic use
  • Agrin / physiology
  • Biomarkers
  • Brevican
  • Cartilage / pathology
  • Cell Division
  • Chondroitin Sulfate Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Decorin
  • Disease Progression
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / metabolism
  • Glioma / pathology
  • Glioma / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronic Acid / metabolism
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Lectins, C-Type / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Neovascularization, Pathologic / physiopathology
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Prognosis
  • Proteoglycans / drug effects
  • Proteoglycans / genetics
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Proteoglycans / physiology*
  • Proteoglycans / therapeutic use
  • Versicans / genetics
  • Versicans / therapeutic use


  • Aggrecans
  • Agrin
  • BCAN protein, human
  • Biomarkers
  • Brevican
  • Chondroitin Sulfate Proteoglycans
  • DCN protein, human
  • Decorin
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Lectins, C-Type
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Proteoglycans
  • Versicans
  • Hyaluronic Acid