Mesenchymal stromal cells in cancer: a review of their immunomodulatory functions and dual effects on tumor progression

Sabine Galland, Ivan Stamenkovic

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Mesenchymal stem or stromal cells (MSCs) are pluripotent cells implicated in a broad range of physiological events, including organogenesis and maintenance of tissue homeostasis as well as tissue regeneration and repair. Because their current definition is somewhat loose – based primarily on their ability to differentiate into a variety of mesenchymal tissues, adhere to plastic, and express, or lack, a handful of cell surface markers – MSCs likely encompass several subpopulations, which may have diverse properties. Their diversity may explain, at least in part, the pleiotropic functions that they display in different physiological and pathological settings. In the context of tissue injury, MSCs can respectively promote and attenuate inflammation during the early and late phases of tissue repair. They may thereby act as sensors of the inflammatory response and secrete mediators that boost or temper the response as required by the stage of the reparatory and regenerative process. MSCs are also implicated in regulating tumor development, in which they are increasingly recognized to play a complex role. Thus, MSCs can both promote and constrain tumor progression by directly affecting tumor cells via secreted mediators and cell–cell interactions and by modulating the innate and adaptive immune response. This review summarizes our current understanding of MSC involvement in tumor development and highlights the mechanistic underpinnings of their implication in tumor growth and progression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)555-572
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Pathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Toll-like receptors
  • anti-tumor therapy
  • cancer
  • exosomes
  • immune system
  • inflammation
  • interleukin-6
  • mesenchymal stem/stromal cells


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