The tumour microenvironment links complement system dysregulation and hypoxic signalling

Br J Radiol. 2019 Jan;92(1093):20180069. doi: 10.1259/bjr.20180069. Epub 2018 May 15.


The complement system is an innate immune pathway typically thought of as part of the first line of defence against "non-self" species. In the context of cancer, complement has been described to have an active role in facilitating cancer-associated processes such as increased proliferation, angiogenesis and migration. Several cellular members of the tumour microenvironment express and/or produce complement proteins locally, including tumour cells. Dysregulation of the complement system has been reported in numerous tumours and increased expression of complement activation fragments in cancer patient specimens correlates with poor patient prognosis. Importantly, genetic or pharmacological targeting of complement has been shown to reduce tumour growth in several cancer preclinical models, suggesting that complement could be an attractive therapeutic target. Hypoxia (low oxygen) is frequently found in solid tumours and has a profound biological impact on cellular and non-cellular components of the tumour microenvironment. In this review, we focus on hypoxia since this is a prevailing feature of the tumour microenvironment that, like increased complement, is typically associated with poor prognosis. Furthermore, interesting links between hypoxia and complement have been recently proposed but never collectively reviewed. Here, we explore how hypoxia alters regulation of complement proteins in different cellular components of the tumour microenvironment, as well as the downstream biological consequences of this regulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Complement System Proteins / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Oxygen Consumption / drug effects
  • Oxygen Consumption / radiation effects
  • Prognosis
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tumor Hypoxia / drug effects
  • Tumor Hypoxia / genetics*
  • Tumor Hypoxia / radiation effects
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics*
  • Tumor Microenvironment / radiation effects
  • Up-Regulation


  • Complement System Proteins