Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) and colorectal cancer: a troublesome twosome for the anti-tumour immune response?

Grace O’Malley, Madelon Heijltjes, Aileen M. Houston, Sweta Rani, Thomas Ritter, Laurence J. Egan and Aideen E. Ryan _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:60752-60774. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.11354

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Grace O’Malley1,2, Madelon Heijltjes3, Aileen M. Houston4, Sweta Rani1, Thomas Ritter1, Laurence J. Egan2 and Aideen E. Ryan1,2

1 Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI), National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science (NCBES) NUI, Galway, Ireland

2 Discipline of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Translational Research Facility, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland

3 Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands

4 Department of Medicine, University College Cork, Ireland

Correspondence to:

Aideen E. Ryan, email:

Keywords: mesenchymal stromal cells, tumour microenvironment, colorectal cancer, immunosuppression, immunomodulation

Received: February 09, 2016 Accepted: July 09, 2016 Published: August 17, 2016


The tumour microenvironment (TME) is an important factor in determining the growth and metastasis of colorectal cancer, and can aid tumours by both establishing an immunosuppressive milieu, allowing the tumour avoid immune clearance, and by hampering the efficacy of various therapeutic regimens. The tumour microenvironment is composed of many cell types including tumour, stromal, endothelial and immune cell populations. It is widely accepted that cells present in the TME acquire distinct functional phenotypes that promote tumorigenesis. One such cell type is the mesenchymal stromal cell (MSC). Evidence suggests that MSCs exert effects in the colorectal tumour microenvironment including the promotion of angiogenesis, invasion and metastasis. MSCs immunomodulatory capacity may represent another largely unexplored central feature of MSCs tumour promoting capacity. There is considerable evidence to suggest that MSCs and their secreted factors can influence the innate and adaptive immune responses. MSC-immune cell interactions can skew the proliferation and functional activity of T-cells, dendritic cells, natural killer cells and macrophages, which could favour tumour growth and enable tumours to evade immune cell clearance. A better understanding of the interactions between the malignant cancer cell and stromal components of the TME is key to the development of more specific and efficacious therapies for colorectal cancer. Here, we review and explore MSC- mediated mechanisms of suppressing anti-tumour immune responses in the colon tumour microenvironment. Elucidation of the precise mechanism of immunomodulation exerted by tumour-educated MSCs is critical to inhibiting immunosuppression and immune evasion established by the TME, thus providing an opportunity for targeted and efficacious immunotherapy for colorectal cancer growth and metastasis.

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