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ISRN Molecular Biology
Volume 2012, Article ID 381428, 28 pages
Review Article

The Dual Role of TGF in Human Cancer: From Tumor Suppression to Cancer Metastasis

Division of Medical Oncology, Department of Medicine, Royal Victoria Hospital, McGill University Health Center, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1A1

Received 25 September 2012; Accepted 12 October 2012

Academic Editors: D. Christophe and S. N. Richter

Copyright © 2012 Jean-Jacques Lebrun. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The transforming growth factor-beta (TGFβ) superfamily encompasses widespread and evolutionarily conserved polypeptide growth factors that regulate and orchestrate growth and differentiation in all cell types and tissues. While they regulate asymmetric cell division and cell fate determination during early development and embryogenesis, TGFβ family members play a major regulatory role in hormonal and immune responses, cell growth, cell death and cell immortalization, bone formation, tissue remodeling and repair, and erythropoiesis throughout adult life. The biological and physiological functions of TGFβ, the founding member of this family, and its receptors are of central importance to human diseases, particularly cancer. By regulating cell growth, death, and immortalization, TGFβ signaling pathways exert tumor suppressor effects in normal cells and early carcinomas. Thus, it is not surprising that a high number of human tumors arise due to mutations or deletions in the genes coding for the various TGFβ signaling components. As tumors develop and progress, these protective and cytostatic effects of TGFβ are often lost. TGFβ signaling then switches to promote cancer progression, invasion, and tumor metastasis. The molecular mechanisms underlying this dual role of TGFβ in human cancer will be discussed in depth in this paper, and it will highlight the challenge and importance of developing novel therapeutic strategies specifically aimed at blocking the prometastatic arm of the TGFβ signaling pathway without affecting its tumor suppressive effects.