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Neural regulation of cancer: from mechanobiology to inflammation.


Despite recent progress in cancer research, the exact nature of malignant transformation and its progression is still not fully understood. Particularly metastasis, which accounts for most cancer death, is a very complex process, and new treatment strategies require a more comprehensive understanding of underlying regulatory mechanisms. Recently, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) has been implicated in cancer progression and beta-blockers have been identified as a novel strategy to limit metastasis. This review discusses evidence that SNS signaling regulates metastasis by modulating the physical characteristics of tumor cells, tumor-associated immune cells and the extracellular matrix (ECM). Altered mechanotype is an emerging hallmark of cancer cells that is linked to invasive phenotype and treatment resistance. Mechanotype also influences crosstalk between tumor cells and their environment, and may thus have a critical role in cancer progression. First, we discuss how neural signaling regulates metastasis and how SNS signaling regulates both biochemical and mechanical properties of tumor cells, immune cells and the ECM. We then review our current knowledge of the mechanobiology of cancer with a focus on metastasis. Next, we discuss links between SNS activity and tumor-associated inflammation, the mechanical properties of immune cells, and how the physical properties of the ECM regulate cancer and metastasis. Finally, we discuss the potential for clinical translation of our knowledge of cancer mechanobiology to improve diagnosis and treatment.

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