Fibroblast activation protein in remodeling tissues

Curr Mol Med. 2012 Dec;12(10):1220-43. doi: 10.2174/156652412803833607.


Tissue remodeling is critical during development and wound healing. It also characterizes a number of pathologic conditions, including chronic inflammation, fibrosis and cancer. It is well appreciated that reactive stromal cells play critical roles in these settings. However, understanding of the mechanisms involved in the differentiation of reactive stromal cells and their biologic activities has been hampered by the fact that they are generated from diverse progenitors, and by their phenotypic and function heterogeneity. Furthermore, molecular markers that are expressed by all reactive stromal cells and that distinguish them from all other cell types have been lacking. Fibroblast activation protein (FAP) is a serine protease that was originally discovered as a cell surface protein expressed on astrocytomas and sarcomas. Over the last two decades, FAP has attracted increasing attention as a selective marker of carcinoma-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and more broadly, of activated fibroblasts in tissues undergoing remodeling of their extracellular matrix (ECM) due to chronic inflammation, fibrosis or wound healing. Herein we review the evidence that FAP is indeed a robust and selective marker for reactive mesenchymal stromal cells associated with pathophysiologic tissue remodeling. We also review recent insights obtained using FAP as a tool to define the relationship between subpopulations of reactive stromal cells in various settings of tissue remodeling. Furthermore, we review recent genetic and pharmacologic data indicating that FAP and FAP-expressing cells play important roles in such conditions. Finally, we discuss the potential risks and therapeutic benefits of targeting FAP and FAP-expressing cells, as well as approaches to do so.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / metabolism
  • Endopeptidases
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibrosis / metabolism
  • Gelatinases / chemistry*
  • Gelatinases / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry*
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / pathology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Serine Endopeptidases / chemistry*
  • Serine Endopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Tumor Microenvironment
  • Wound Healing / physiology


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Endopeptidases
  • Serine Endopeptidases
  • fibroblast activation protein alpha
  • Gelatinases