Charting the unexplored extracellular matrix in cancer

Int J Exp Pathol. 2018 Apr;99(2):58-76. doi: 10.1111/iep.12269. Epub 2018 Apr 19.


The extracellular matrix (ECM) is present in all solid tissues and considered a master regulator of cell behaviour and phenotype. The importance of maintaining the correct biochemical and biophysical properties of the ECM, and the subsequent regulation of cell and tissue homeostasis, is illustrated by the simple fact that the ECM is highly dysregulated in many different types of disease, especially cancer. The loss of tissue ECM homeostasis and integrity is seen as one of the hallmarks of cancer and typically defines transitional events in progression and metastasis. The vast majority of cancer studies place an emphasis on exploring the behaviour and intrinsic signalling pathways of tumour cells. Their goal was to identify ways to target intracellular pathways regulating cancer. Cancer progression and metastasis are powerfully influenced by the ECM and thus present a vast, unexplored repository of anticancer targets that we are only just beginning to tap into. Deconstructing the complexity of the tumour ECM landscape and identifying the interactions between the many cell types, soluble factors and extracellular-matrix proteins have proved challenging. Here, we discuss some of the emerging tools and platforms being used to catalogue and chart the ECM in cancer.

Keywords: cancer; extracellular matrix; imaging; metastasis; proteomics; remodelling.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / pathology*
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins