Human neutrophils: Their role in cancer and relation to myeloid-derived suppressor cells

Semin Immunol. 2016 Apr;28(2):187-96. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2016.03.018. Epub 2016 Apr 7.


Increased frequencies of peripheral blood neutrophils as well as tumor-infiltrating (associated) neutrophils (TAN) have been observed in many tumor entities. Although the most frequent cell type in the peripheral blood, neutrophils are outnumbered by other leukocyte subsets in the tumor microenvironment. Nevertheless, a number of recent meta-analyses identified TAN as well as high neutrophil-lymphocyte ratio in the blood as one of the most powerful immunologic prognostic parameters in human oncology. This clinical impact is based on an intense bidirectional crosstalk of neutrophils and tumor cells resulting in changes in neutrophil as well as tumor cell biology. These changes eventually lead to TAN equipped with various tumor promoting features, which enhance angiogenesis, cancer cell invasion and metastasis. Many of the pro-tumor features of TAN are shared with PMN-MDSC (myeloid-derived suppressor cells). Consequently, the distinction of these two cell populations is a matter of intensive debate and also specifically discussed in this article. The importance of neutrophils in cancer progression has triggered numerous efforts to therapeutically target these cells. Current strategies in this area focus on the inhibition of either TAN recruitment or pro-tumorigenic function.

Keywords: Cancer progression; Immunosuppression; Low density neutrophils; Myeloid-derived suppressor cells; Polymorphonuclear neutrophil granulocytes; Tumor-associated neutrophils.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers
  • Disease Progression
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Humans
  • Immunomodulation
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells / immunology*
  • Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Neutrophil Activation / immunology
  • Neutrophil Infiltration / immunology
  • Neutrophils / immunology*
  • Neutrophils / metabolism*
  • Prognosis
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology


  • Biomarkers