Cancer is initiated largely by specific cohorts of genetic aberrations, which are generated by mutagens and often mimic active growth factor receptors, or downstream effectors. Once initiated cells outgrow and attract blood vessels, a multi-step process, called metastasis, disseminates cancer cells primarily through vascular routes. The major steps of the metastatic cascade comprise intravasation into blood vessels, circulation as single or collectives of cells, and eventual colonization of distant organs. Herein, we consider metastasis as a multi-step process that seized principles and molecular players employed by physiological processes, such as tissue regeneration and migration of neural crest progenitors. Our discussion contrasts the irreversible nature of mutagenesis, which establishes primary tumors, and the reversible epigenetic processes (e.g. epithelial–mesenchymal transition) underlying the establishment of micro-metastases and secondary tumors. Interestingly, analyses of sequencing data from untreated metastases inferred depletion of putative driver mutations among metastases, in line with the pivotal role played by growth factors and epigenetic processes in metastasis. Conceivably, driver mutations may not confer the same advantage in the microenvironment of the primary tumor and of the colonization site, hence phenotypic plasticity rather than rigid cellular states hardwired by mutations becomes advantageous during metastasis. We review the latest reported examples of growth factors harnessed by the metastatic cascade, with the goal of identifying opportunities for anti-metastasis interventions. In summary, because the overwhelming majority of cancer-associated deaths are caused by metastatic disease, understanding the complexity of metastasis, especially the roles played by growth factors, is vital for preventing, diagnosing and treating metastasis.
A relatively well-understood multistep process enables mutation-bearing cells to form primary tumours, which later use the circulation system to colonize new locations and form metastases. However, in which way the emerging abundance of different non-coding RNAs supports tumour progression is poorly understood. Here, we review new lines of evidence linking long and short types of non-coding RNAs to signalling pathways activated in the course of cancer progression by growth factors and by the tumour micro-environment. Resolving the new dimension of non-coding RNAs in oncogenesis will probably translate to earlier detection of cancer and improved therapeutic strategies.
Stringent regulation of biochemical signalling pathways involves feedback and feedforward loops, which underlie robust cellular responses to external stimuli. Regulation occurs in all horizontal layers of signalling networks, primarily by proteins that mediate internalization of receptor–ligand complexes, dephosphorylation of kinases and their substrates, as well as transcriptional repression. Recent studies have unveiled the role of miRNAs (microRNAs), post-transcriptional regulators that control mRNA stability, as key modulators of signal propagation. By acting as genetic switches or fine-tuners, miRNAs can directly and multiply regulate cellular outcomes in response to diverse extracellular signals. Conversely, signalling networks temporally control stability, biogenesis and abundance of miRNAs, by regulating layers of the miRNA biogenesis pathway. In the present mini-review, we use a set of examples to illustrate the extensive interdependence between miRNAs and signalling networks.