Targeting IL4/IL4R for the Treatment of Epithelial Cancer Metastasis

Clin Exp Metastasis. 2015 Dec;32(8):847-56. doi: 10.1007/s10585-015-9747-9. Epub 2015 Sep 18.


While progress has been made in treating primary epithelial tumors, metastatic tumors remain largely incurable and still account for 85-90 % of all cancer-related deaths. Interleukin-4 (IL4), a Th2 cytokine, and the IL4/IL4 receptor (IL4R) interaction have well defined roles in the immune system. Yet, IL4 receptors are over-expressed by many epithelial cancers and could be a promising target for metastatic tumor therapy. The IL4/IL4R signaling axis is a strong promoter of pro-metastatic phenotypes in epithelial cancer cells including enhanced migration, invasion, survival, and proliferation. The promotion of breast cancer growth specifically is also supported in part by IL4-induced glutamine metabolism, and we have shown that IL4 is also capable of inducing glucose metabolism in breast cancer cells. Importantly, there are several types of FDA approved medications for use in asthma patients that inhibit the IL4/IL4R signaling axis. However, these approved medications inhibit both the type I IL4 receptor found on immune cells, and the type II IL4 receptor that is predominantly expressed by some non-hematopoietic cells including epithelial cancer cells. This article reviews existing therapies targeting IL4, IL4R, or IL4/IL4R signaling, and recent findings guiding the creation of novel therapies that specifically inhibit the type II IL4R, while taking into consideration effects on immune cells within the tumor microenvironment. Some of these therapies are currently in clinical trials for cancer patients, and may be exploitable for the treatment of metastatic disease.

Keywords: Cytokine; IL4; IL4 receptor; Metastasis; Proliferation; Survival.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interleukin-4 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Interleukin-4 / physiology
  • Janus Kinase 1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Neoplasms, Glandular and Epithelial / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms, Glandular and Epithelial / pathology
  • Receptors, Interleukin-4 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, Interleukin-4 / physiology
  • STAT6 Transcription Factor / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Receptors, Interleukin-4
  • STAT6 Transcription Factor
  • Interleukin-4
  • JAK1 protein, human
  • Janus Kinase 1