Tumor microenvironment (TME) is the local environment of tumor, composed of tumor cells and blood vessels, extracellular matrix (ECM), immune cells, and metabolic and signaling molecules. Chemokines and their receptors play a fundamental role in the crosstalk between tumor cells and TME, regulating tumor-related angiogenesis, specific leukocyte infiltration, and activation of the immune response and directly influencing tumor cell growth, invasion, and cancer progression. The chemokine CXCL12 is a homeostatic chemokine that regulates physiological and pathological process such as inflammation, cell proliferation, and specific migration. CXCL12 activates CXCR4 and CXCR7 chemokine receptors, and the entire axis has been shown to be dysregulated in more than 20 different tumors. CXCL12 binding to CXCR4 triggers multiple signal transduction pathways that regulate intracellular calcium flux, chemotaxis, transcription, and cell survival. CXCR7 binds with high-affinity CXCL12 and with lower-affinity CXCL11, which binds also CXCR3. Although CXCR7 acts as a CXCL12 scavenger through ligand internalization and degradation, it transduces the signal mainly through β-arrestin with a pivotal role in endothelial and neural cells. Recent studies demonstrate that TME rich in CXCL12 leads to resistance to immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) therapy and that CXCL12 axis inhibitors sensitize resistant tumors to ICI effect. Thus targeting the CXCL12-mediated axis may control tumor and tumor microenvironment exerting an antitumor dual action. Herein CXCL12 physiology, role in cancer biology and in composite TME, prognostic role, and the relative inhibitors are addressed.
© 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG.