Cancer and the complement cascade

Mol Cancer Res. 2010 Nov;8(11):1453-65. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-10-0225. Epub 2010 Sep 24.


Despite significant research on the role of inflammation and immunosurveillance in the immunologic microenvironment of tumors, little attention has been given to the oncogenic capabilities of the complement cascade. The recent finding that complement may contribute to tumor growth suggests an insidious relationship between complement and cancer, especially in light of evidence that complement facilitates cellular proliferation and regeneration. We address the hypothesis that complement proteins promote carcinogenesis and suggest mechanisms by which complement can drive the fundamental features of cancer. Evidence shows that this diverse family of innate immune proteins facilitates dysregulation of mitogenic signaling pathways, sustained cellular proliferation, angiogenesis, insensitivity to apoptosis, invasion and migration, and escape from immunosurveillance. Given that the traditionally held functions for the complement system include innate immunity and cancer defense, our review suggests a new way of thinking about the role of complement proteins in neoplasia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Complement Membrane Attack Complex / metabolism
  • Complement System Proteins / immunology*
  • Complement System Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Immunologic
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology


  • Complement Membrane Attack Complex
  • Complement System Proteins