The Role of Tumor-Associated Neutrophils in Colorectal Cancer

Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Jan 27;20(3):529. doi: 10.3390/ijms20030529.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most common causes of cancer deaths worldwide and the number of CRC patients is increasing progressively. Despite the improvement of the surgical techniques and chemotherapy, we have not completely overcome this disease yet due to the metastases. Therefore, understanding the mechanisms through which metastasis occurs is important for overcoming CRC. Normal host cells in the tumor microenvironment, such as macrophages and fibroblasts, have been reported to promote the growth of CRCs. Although neutrophils were originally considered to have defensive functions against tumor cells, it has been revealed that some populations of neutrophils, called as tumor-associated neutrophils (TANs), have tumor-supportive functions. The plasticity between tumor-suppressive and -supportive neutrophils are regulated by transforming growth factor (TGF)-β and Interferon-β signaling. Some studies have demonstrated that TANs promote the spread of cancer cells to distant organs. TANs contribute to the tumor invasion and angiogenesis through the production of matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP9), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) in the primary and metastatic sites. Neutrophils also promotes tumor cell dissemination by capturing circulating tumor cells using neutrophil extracellular traps and promote their migration to distant sites. The neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio is a well-defined predictive marker for CRC patients. In this review, we highlight the molecular signaling between TANs and CRC cells and the possibility of TANs as a potential target for cancer therapy.

Keywords: cancer immunity; colon cancer; neutrophils; tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms / immunology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interferon-beta / metabolism*
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9 / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neutrophils / immunology
  • Neutrophils / pathology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism*
  • Tumor Microenvironment
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism


  • HGF protein, human
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • VEGFA protein, human
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor
  • Interferon-beta
  • MMP9 protein, human
  • Matrix Metalloproteinase 9