Therapy of cancer metastasis by activation of the inducible nitric oxide synthase

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 1998 Mar;17(1):55-75. doi: 10.1023/a:1005956721457.


The process of cancer metastasis consists of multiple sequential and highly selective steps. The vast majority of tumor cells that enter the circulation die rapidly; only a few survive to produce metastases. This survival is not random. Metastases are clonal in origin and are produced by specialized subpopulations of cells that preexist in a heterogeneous primary tumor. Experimental studies concluded that metastatic cells survive in the circulation whereas nonmetastatic cells do not. In part, this difference is due to an inverse correlation between expression of endogenous inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and production of nitric oxide (NO) and metastatic potential. Direct evidence for the role of iNOS in metastasis has been provided by our data on transfection of highly metastatic murine K-1735 clone 4 (C4.P) cells which express low levels of iNOS, with a functional iNOS (C4.L8), inactive mutated iNOS (C4.S2), or neomycin resistance (C4.Neo) genes in medium containing 3 mM of the specific iNOS inhibitor NG-L-methyl arginine (NMA). C4.P, C4.Neo, and C4.S2 cells were highly metastatic, whereas C4.L8 cells were not. Moreover, C4.L8 cells produced slow-growing subcutaneous tumors in nude mice, whereas the other 3 cell lines produced fast-growing tumors. In vitro studies indicated that the expression of iNOS in C4.L8.5 cells was associated with either cytostasis or cytolysis via apoptosis, depending upon NO output. The tumor cells producing high levels of NO underwent autocytolysis and produced cytolysis of bystander cells under both in vitro and in vivo conditions. Multiple i.v. injections of liposomes containing a synthetic lipopeptide upregulated iNOS expression in murine M5076 reticulum sarcoma cells growing as hepatic metastases. The induction of iNOS was associated with the complete regression of the lesions. Transfection of interferon-beta suppressed tumor formation and eradicated metastases, which was apparently linked to iNOS expression and NO production in host cells such as macrophage. Besides mediating cell death, NO produced tumor suppression by regulating expression of genes related to metastasis, e.g., survival, invasion, and angiogenesis. Suppression of metastasis can be achieved through use of immunomodulators that induce iNOS expression in tumor lesions or by the direct delivery of the iNOS gene to tumor cells or host cells through liposome and/or viral vectors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Enzyme Induction
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Metastasis*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / biosynthesis
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II


  • NOS2 protein, human
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Nos2 protein, mouse