Cancer stem cells and tumor-associated macrophages: a roadmap for multitargeting strategies

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Abstract

The idea that tumor initiation and progression are driven by a subset of cells endowed with stem-like properties was first described by Rudolf Virchow in 1855. ‘Cancer stem cells’, as they were termed more than a century later, represent a subset of tumor cells that are able to generate all tumorigenic and nontumorigenic cell types within the malignancy. Although their existence was hypothesized > 150 years ago, it was only recently that stem-like cells started to be isolated from different neoplastic malignancies. Interestingly, Virchow, in suggesting a correlation between cancer and the inflammatory microenvironment, also paved the way for the ‘Seed and Soil’ theory proposed by Paget a few years later. Despite the time that has passed since these two important concepts were suggested, the relationships between Virchow's ‘stem-like cells’ and Paget's ‘soil’ are far from being fully understood. One emerging topic is the importance of a stem-like niche in modulating the biological properties of stem-like cancer cells and thus in affecting the response of the tumor to drugs. This review aims to summarize the recent molecular data concerning the multilayered relationship between cancer stem cells and tumor-associated macrophages that form a key component of the tumor microenvironment. We also discuss the therapeutic implications of targeting this synergistic interplay.

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