Antithetic roles of proteoglycans in cancer

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2012 Feb;69(4):553-79. doi: 10.1007/s00018-011-0816-1. Epub 2011 Oct 2.


Proteoglycans (PGs), a family of complex post-translationally sculptured macromolecules, are fundamental regulators of most normal and aberrant cellular functions. The unparalleled structural-functional diversity of PGs endows them with the ability to serve as critical mediators of the tumor cells' interaction with the host microenvironment, while directly contributing to the organization and dynamic remodeling of this milieu. Despite their indisputable importance during embryonic development and in the adult organism, and their frequent dysregulation in tumor lesions, their precise involvement in tumorigenesis awaits a more decisive demonstration. Particularly challenging is to ascertain to what extent selected PGs may catalyze tumor progression and to what extent they may inhibit it, implying antithetic functions of individual PGs. Integrated efforts are needed to consolidate the routine use of PGs in the clinical monitoring of cancer patients and to broaden the exploitation of these macromolecules as therapeutic targets. Several PGs have the required attributes to be contemplated as effective antigens for immunotherapeutic approaches, while the tangible results obtained in recent clinical trials targeting the NG2/CSPG4 transmembrane PG urge further development of PG-based cancer treatment modalities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Proteoglycans