Hyaluronan: towards novel anti-cancer therapeutics

Pharmacol Rep. 2013;65(5):1056-74. doi: 10.1016/s1734-1140(13)71465-8.


The understanding of the role of hyaluronan in physiology and various pathological conditions has changed since the complex nature of its synthesis, degradation and interactions with diverse binding proteins was revealed. Initially perceived only as an inert component of connective tissue, it is now known to be involved in multiple signaling pathways, including those involved in cancer pathogenesis and progression. Hyaluronan presents a mixture of various length polymer molecules from finely fragmented oligosaccharides, polymers intermediate in size, to huge aggregates of high molecular weight hyaluronan. While large molecules promote tissue integrity and quiescence, the generation of breakdown products enhances signaling transduction, contributing to the pro-oncogenic behavior of cancer cells. Low molecular weight hyaluronan has well-established angiogenic properties, while the smallest hyaluronan oligomers may counteract tumor development. These equivocal properties make the role of hyaluronan in cancer biology very complex. This review surveys recent data on hyaluronan biosynthesis, metabolism, and interactions with its binding proteins called hyaladherins (CD44, RHAMM), providing themolecular background underlying its differentiated biological activity. In particular, the article critically presents current ideas on actual role of hyaluronan in cancer. The paper additionally maps a path towards promising novel anti-cancer therapeutics which target hyaluronan metabolic enzymes and hyaladherins, and constitute hyaluronan-based drug delivery systems.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Drug Carriers
  • Drug Design
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / metabolism
  • Glucuronosyltransferase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Glucuronosyltransferase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronan Receptors / metabolism
  • Hyaluronan Synthases
  • Hyaluronic Acid / chemistry
  • Hyaluronic Acid / metabolism*
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Signal Transduction* / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Drug Carriers
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Hyaluronan Receptors
  • hyaluronan-mediated motility receptor
  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Glucuronosyltransferase
  • Hyaluronan Synthases