Cryptic collagen elements as signaling hubs in the regulation of tumor growth and metastasis
Structural remodeling of the extracellular matrix is a well-established process associated with tumor growth and metastasis. Tumor and stromal cells that compose the tumor mass function cooperatively to promote the malignant phenotype in part by physically interacting with intact and structurally altered matrix proteins. To this end, collagen represents the most abundant component of the extracellular matrix and is known to control the behavior of histologically distinct tumor types as well as a diversity of stromal cells. Although a significant molecular understanding has been established concerning how cellular interactions with intact collagen govern signaling pathways that control tumor progression, considerably less is known concerning how interactions with cryptic or hidden regions within remodeled collagen may selectively alter signaling cascades, or whether inhibition of these cryptic signaling pathways may represent clinically effective therapeutic strategies. Here, we review the emerging evidence concerning the possible mechanisms for the selective generation of cryptic or hidden elements within collagen and their potential cell surface receptors that may facilitate signal transduction. We discuss the concept that cellular communication links between cell surface receptors and these cryptic collagen elements may serve as functional signaling hubs that coordinate multiple signaling pathways operating within both tumor and stromal cells. Finally, we provide examples to help illustrate the possibility that direct targeting of these unique cryptic signaling hubs may lead to the development of more effective therapeutic strategies to control tumor growth and metastasis.