HSCs and Metastatic Cancer Stem Cells use Similar Pathways for Migration

We previously considered some of the pathways involved in migration of HSCs either into or out of the bone marrow microenvironment. Among the numerous similarities between normal HSCs and cancer cells is the ability to utilize several of the same molecular mechanisms for migration (Li and Neaves 2006). For example, the CXCL12/CXCR4 axis, which plays a pivotal role in developmental and adult hematopoiesis and recruitment of HSCs to sites of injury (Kollet et al. 2003), is also involved in the metastasis of breast cancer (Fernandis et al. 2004, Dar et al. 2006, Li et al. 2007). Similarly, matrix metalloproteinases involved in HSC mobilization, migration, (Levesque et al. 2002) and recruitment of HSCs to sites of injury (Kollet et al. 2003) also contribute to cancer cell invasion (John and Tuszynski 2001, Li et al. 2007).

The realization of extensive overlap between stem and cancer cell characteristics has generated a great deal of interest in finding ways to distinguish between the two cell populations. Cancer treatment regimens would be dramatically improved by the ability to preserve the stem cell population while eliminating, with great specificity, cancer cells and cancer stem cells. Although relatively little success has been achieved in these efforts, some recent publications point to a distinction in the role of PTEN and CD44 in normal HSCs versus leukemic cells and therefore may open avenues for highly specific anticancer therapies that are less damaging to normal adult stem cell populations than are traditional chemotherapeutic or radiation regimens (Krause et al. 2006, Yilmaz et al. 2006).

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