, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 91-106

Role of nitric oxide in tumor progression: Lessons from experimental tumors

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Abstract

Nitric oxide (NO), a potent biological mediator, plays a key role in physiological as well as pathological processes, including inflammation and cancer. The role of NO in tumor biology remains incompletely understood. While a few reports indicate that the presence of NO in tumor cells or their microenvironment is detrimental to tumor cell survival and consequently their metastatic ability, a large body of clinical and experimental data suggest a promoting role of NO in tumor progression and metastasis. We suggest that tumor cells capable of very high levels of NO production die in vivo, and those producing or exposed to lower levels of NO, or capable of resisting NO-mediated injury undergo a clonal selection because of their survival advantage; they also utilize certain NO-mediated mechanisms for promotion of growth, invasion and metastasis. The possible mechanism(s) are: (a) a stimulatory effect on tumor cell invasiveness, (b) a promotion of tumor angiogenesis and blood flow in the tumor neovasculature, and (c) a suppression of host anti-tumor defense. In this review, we discuss these mechanisms on the basis of data derived from experimental models, in particular, a mouse mammary tumor model in which the expression of eNOS by tumor cells is positively correlated with invasive and metastatic abilities. Tumor-derived NO was shown to promote tumor cell invasiveness and angiogenesis. The invasion-stimulating effects of NO were due to an upregulation of matrix metalloproteases and a downregulation of their natural inhibitors. Treatment of tumor-bearing mice with NO-blocking agents reduced the growth and vascularity of primary tumors and their spontaneous metastases. We propose that selected NO-blocking drugs may be useful in treating certain human cancers either as single agents or as a part of combination therapies.