The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 55: 671 - 684 (2011)

Vol 55, Issue 7-8-9

Special Issue: Mammary Gland in Development & Cancer

Ecosystems of invasion and metastasis in mammary morphogenesis and cancer

Published: 29 November 2011

Marc Mareel*,1 and Susana Constantino2

1Department of Radiotherapy and Experimental Cancer Research, University Hospital Ghent, Belgium and 2Angiogenesis Unit, Instituto de Medicina Molecular, Facultade de Medicina de Universidade de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal


The present review describes molecular and cellular mechanisms of cancer invasion and metastasis as compared to mammary gland development considering communication inside and between ecosystems. At the level of the individual cell, invasion programs are written by an ecosystem of signalling pathways each of which steers several invasion-related cellular activities. At the supracellular level, communication within the epithelial compartment involves cells of the same origin, but with different phenotypes including stem cells. A similar interaction occurs between the various cells of the stromal compartment. Crucial for our understanding of tumor or mammary gland ecosystems are the mutual interactions between cells of the epithelial and cells of the stromal compartment. An update is provided for endothelial cells, cancer-associated fibroblasts and macrophages that are implicated in angiogenesis, desmoplasia and inflammation respectively. At the level of the organism, distant ecosystems, comprising primary tumor site, sites of metastasis, bone marrow and endocrine glands among others, are in continuous contact through circulating cells and soluble ligands. Our review suggests consideration of these ecosystems when designing therapeutic strategies.


invasion, metastasis, ecosystem, molecular communication, cancer therapy

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