Metabotropic glutamate receptors in cancer

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Metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) are widely known for their roles in synaptic signaling. However, accumulating evidence suggests roles of mGluRs in human malignancies in addition to synaptic transmission. Somatic cell homeostasis presents intriguing possibilities of mGluRs and glutamate signaling as novel targets for human cancers. More recently, aberrant glutamate signaling has been shown to participate in the transformation and maintenance of various cancer types, including glioma, melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer, indicating that genes encoding mGluRs, GRMs, can function as oncogenes. Here, we provide a review on the interactions of mGluRs and their ligand, glutamate, in processes that promote the growth of tumors of neuronal and non-neuronal origins. Further, we discuss the evolution of riluzole, a glutamate release inhibitor approved for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but now fashioned as an mGluR1 inhibitor for melanoma therapy and as a radio-sensitizer for tumors that have metastasized to the brain. With the success of riluzole, it is not far-fetched to believe that other drugs that may act directly or indirectly on other mGluRs can be beneficial for multiple applications.

This article is part of the Special Issue entitled ‘Metabotropic Glutamate Receptors, 5 years on’.

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