Interleukin-22 (IL-22) is an IL-10 family cytokine produced by T cells and innate lymphoid cells. The IL-22 signaling pathway orchestrates mucosal immune defense and tissue regeneration through pleiotropic effects including pro-survival signaling, cell migration, dysplasia and angiogenesis. While these functions can prevent initial establishment of tumors, they can also be hijacked by aggressive cancers to enhance tumor growth and metastasis. Thus, the role of the IL-22/IL-22R1 axis in cancer is complex and context-specific. Evidence of IL-22 involvement manifests as dysregulation of IL-22 expression and signaling in patients with many common cancers including those of the gut, skin, lung and liver. Unlike other cancer-associated cytokines, IL-22 has restricted tissue specificity as its unique receptor IL-22R1 is exclusively expressed on epithelial and tissue cells, but not immune cells. This makes it an attractive target for therapy as there is potential achieve anti-tumor immunity with fewer side effects. This review summarizes current findings on functions of IL-22 in association with general mechanisms for tumorigenesis as well as specific contributions to particular cancers, and ponders how best to approach further research in the field.
Keywords: Cancer; IL-22R1; Inflammation; Interleukin-22; STAT3.
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