Initial steps of metastasis: cell invasion and endothelial transmigration

Mutat Res. 2011 Jul-Oct;728(1-2):23-34. doi: 10.1016/j.mrrev.2011.05.002. Epub 2011 May 12.


Metastasis is the leading cause of cancer mortality. The metastatic cascade represents a multi-step process which includes local tumor cell invasion, entry into the vasculature followed by the exit of carcinoma cells from the circulation and colonization at the distal sites. At the earliest stage of successful cancer cell dissemination, the primary cancer adapts the secondary site of tumor colonization involving the tumor-stroma crosstalk. The migration and plasticity of cancer cells as well as the surrounding environment such as stromal and endothelial cells are mandatory. Consequently, the mechanisms of cell movement are of utmost relevance for targeted intervention of which three different types have been reported. Tumor cells can migrate either collectively, in a mesenchymal or in an amoeboid type of movement and intravasate the blood or lymph vasculature. Intravasation by the interaction of tumor cells with the vascular endothelium is mechanistically poorly understood. Changes in the epithelial plasticity enable carcinoma cells to switch between these types of motility. The types of migration may change depending on the intervention thereby increasing the velocity and aggressiveness of invading cancer cells. Interference with collective or mesenchymal cell invasion by targeting integrin expression or metalloproteinase activity, respectively, resulted in an amoeboid cell phenotype as the ultimate exit strategy of cancer cells. There are little mechanistic details reported in vivo showing that the amoeboid behavior can be either reversed or efficiently inhibited. Future concepts of metastasis intervention must simultaneously address the collective, mesenchymal and amoeboid mechanisms of cell invasion in order to advance in anti-metastatic strategies as these different types of movement can coexist and cooperate. Beyond the targeting of cell movements, the adhesion of cancer cells to the stroma in heterotypic circulating tumor cell emboli is of paramount relevance for anti-metastatic therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Movement
  • Humans
  • Mesoderm / cytology
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / physiopathology*
  • Transendothelial and Transepithelial Migration*
  • Tumor Microenvironment