Colorectal cancer desmoplastic reaction up-regulates collagen synthesis and restricts cancer cell invasion

Cell Tissue Res. 2011 Nov;346(2):223-36. doi: 10.1007/s00441-011-1254-y. Epub 2011 Oct 11.


During cancer cell growth many tumors exhibit various grades of desmoplasia, unorganized production of fibrous or connective tissue, composed mainly of collagen fibers and myofibroblasts. The accumulation of an extracellular matrix (ECM) surrounding tumors directly affects cancer cell proliferation, migration and spread; therefore the study of desmoplasia is of vital importance. Stromal fibroblasts surrounding tumors are activated to myofibroblasts and become the primary producers of ECM during desmoplasia. The composition, density and organization of this ECM accumulation play a major role on the influence desmoplasia has upon tumor cells. In this study, we analyzed desmoplasia in vivo in human colorectal carcinoma tissue, detecting an up-regulation of collagen I, collagen IV and collagen V in human colorectal cancer desmoplastic reaction. These components were then analyzed in vitro co-cultivating colorectal cancer cells (Caco-2 and HCT116) and fibroblasts utilizing various co-culture techniques. Our findings demonstrate that direct cell-cell contact between fibroblasts and colorectal cancer cells evokes an increase in ECM density, composed of unorganized collagens (I, III, IV and V) and proteoglycans (biglycan, fibromodulin, perlecan and versican). The desmoplastic collagen fibers were thick, with an altered orientation, as well as deposited as bundles. This increased ECM density inhibited the migration and invasion of the colorectal tumor cells in both 2D and 3D co-culture systems. Therefore this study sheds light on a possible restricting role desmoplasia could play in colorectal cancer invasion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Collagen / biosynthesis*
  • Collagen / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Extracellular Matrix / genetics
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / pathology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Proteoglycans / metabolism
  • Stromal Cells / metabolism
  • Stromal Cells / pathology
  • Up-Regulation*


  • Proteoglycans
  • Collagen