Stromal reaction in cancer tissue: pathophysiologic significance of the expression of matrix-degrading enzymes in relation to matrix turnover and immune/inflammatory reactions

Pathol Int. 1998 Jan;48(1):1-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1827.1998.tb03820.x.


Cancers are characterized by invasive growth and distant metastasis. Cancer cells not only destroy the pre-existing extracellular matrix, but cancer invasion per se usually induces new matrix formation by activation of stromal cells; that is, desmoplastic reaction. This process includes both matrix production and degradation; that is, the remodeling process. The similarity between desmoplastic reactions in cancer stroma and the wound healing process has already been pointed out, and it has been well documented that matrix-degrading processes are actively involved in the would healing process. A recent study revealed that most matrix-degrading enzymes, generally considered to be one of the main mechanisms of cancer invasion and metastasis, are originated from stromal cells. Based on these preconditions, the present review postulates that the abundant expression of matrix-degrading enzymes by fibroblasts, coupled with the abundant expression of type I procollagen, is involved in the matrix remodeling processes occurring in cancer stroma; that is, the mechanism similar to the wound healing process. Next, macrophages distributed along the invasive margin are known to express matrix-degrading enzymes/factors. Data from past studies of colon carcinoma indicate that the tissue expression of matrix metalloproteinase-9 and urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor is inversely associated with simultaneous liver metastasis and infiltrating growth pattern. Previous clinicopathologic data have indicated that immune/inflammatory cells are one of the factors for a favorable prognosis. This suggests that the expression of matrix-degrading enzymes/factors by these host cells may be involved in host immune/inflammatory reactions, and that the net function of these cells can be defensive towards the host. Data from past studies of colon carcinoma on the expression of the intercellular adhesion molecule-1 suggest that the interaction between macrophages, lymphocytes, and the phenotypes of venules distributed along the invasive margin, further support the pro-inflammatory milleu there. Therefore, the matrix degradation process in cancer tissue is multifunctional: besides the involvement in cancer invasion and metastasis, the matrix degradation process is also involved in the tissue remodeling process and in the immune/inflammatory reaction occurring in the stroma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma / immunology*
  • Carcinoma / metabolism
  • Carcinoma / physiopathology*
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / immunology
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Metalloendopeptidases / metabolism*
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Plasminogen Activators / metabolism
  • Procollagen / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Receptors, Urokinase Plasminogen Activator
  • Stromal Cells / immunology
  • Stromal Cells / metabolism
  • Stromal Cells / physiology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Venules / immunology
  • Venules / metabolism


  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • PLAUR protein, human
  • Procollagen
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Receptors, Urokinase Plasminogen Activator
  • Plasminogen Activators
  • Metalloendopeptidases