Targeting nuclear receptors in cancer-associated fibroblasts as concurrent therapy to inhibit development of chemoresistant tumors

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Most anticancer therapies to date focus on druggable features of tumor epithelia. Despite the increasing repertoire of treatment options, patient responses remain varied. Moreover, tumor resistance and relapse remain persistent clinical challenges. These observations imply an incomplete understanding of tumor heterogeneity. The tumor microenvironment is a major determinant of disease progression and therapy outcome. Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) are the dominant cell type within the reactive stroma of tumors. They orchestrate paracrine pro-tumorigenic signaling with adjacent tumor cells, thus exacerbating the hallmarks of cancer and accelerating tumor malignancy. Although CAF-derived soluble factors have been investigated for tumor stromadirected therapy, the underlying transcriptional programs that enable the oncogenic functions of CAFs remain poorly understood. Nuclear receptors (NRs), a large family of ligand-responsive transcription factors, are pharmacologically viable targets for the suppression of CAF-facilitated oncogenesis. In this study, we defined the expression profiles of NRs in CAFs from clinical cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) biopsies. We further identified a cluster of driver NRs in CAFs as important modifiers of CAF function with profound influence on cancer cell invasiveness, proliferation, drug resistance, energy metabolism and oxidative stress status. Importantly, guided by the NR profile of CAFs, retinoic acid receptor β and androgen receptor antagonists were identified for concurrent therapy with cisplatin, resulting in the inhibition of chemoresistance in recurred SCC:CAF xenografts. Our work demonstrates that treatments targeting both the tumor epithelia and the surrounding CAFs can extend the efficacy of conventional chemotherapy.

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