Hypoxia-induced carbonic anhydrase IX as a target for cancer therapy: from biology to clinical use

Semin Cancer Biol. 2015 Apr;31:52-64. doi: 10.1016/j.semcancer.2014.08.002. Epub 2014 Aug 10.


The tumor microenvironment includes a complicated network of physiological gradients contributing to plasticity of tumor cells and heterogeneity of tumor tissue. Hypoxia is a key component generating intratumoral oxygen gradients, which affect the cellular expression program and lead to therapy resistance and increased metastatic propensity of weakly oxygenated cell subpopulations. One of the adaptive responses of tumor cells to hypoxia involves the increased expression and functional activation of carbonic anhydrase IX (CA IX), a cancer-related cell surface enzyme catalyzing the reversible conversion of carbon dioxide to bicarbonate ion and proton. Via its catalytic activity, CA IX participates in regulation of intracellular and extracellular pH perturbations that result from hypoxia-induced changes in cellular metabolism producing excess of acid. Through the ability to regulate pH, CA IX also facilitates cell migration and invasion. In addition, CA IX has non-catalytic function in cell adhesion and spreading. Thus, CA IX endows tumor cells with survival advantages in hypoxia/acidosis and confers an increased ability to migrate, invade and metastasize. Accordingly, CA IX is expressed in a broad range of tumors, where it is associated with prognosis and therapy outcome. Its expression pattern and functional implications in tumor biology make CA IX a promising therapeutic target, which can be hit either by immunotherapy with monoclonal antibodies or with compounds inhibiting its enzyme activity. The first strategy has already reached the clinical trials, whereas the second one is still in preclinical testing. Both strategies indicate that CA IX can become a clinically useful anticancer target, but urge further efforts toward better selection of patients for immunotherapy and deeper understanding of tumor types, clinical situations and synthetic lethality interactions with other treatment approaches.

Keywords: Carbonic anhydrase IX; Hypoxia; Immunotherapy; Migration–invasion; pH regulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / immunology
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism*
  • Biocatalysis / drug effects
  • Carbonic Anhydrase IX
  • Carbonic Anhydrases / immunology
  • Carbonic Anhydrases / metabolism*
  • Cell Movement*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Hypoxia / enzymology*
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • CA9 protein, human
  • Carbonic Anhydrase IX
  • Carbonic Anhydrases