Molecular mechanisms underpinning sarcomas and implications

Sarcomas are complex mesenchymal neoplasms with a poor prognosis. Their clinical management is highly challenging due to their heterogeneity and insensitivity to current treatments. Although there have been advances in understanding specific genomic alterations and genetic mutations driving sarcomagenesis, the underlying molecular mechanisms, which are likely to be unique for each sarcoma subtype, are not fully understood. This is in part due to a lack of consensus on the cells of origin, but there is now mounting evidence that they originate from mesenchymal stromal/stem cells (MSCs). To identify novel treatment strategies for sarcomas, research in recent years has adopted a mechanism-based search for molecular markers for targeted therapy which has included recapitulating sarcomagenesis using in vitro and in vivo MSC models.

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Fig: Schematic representation of the most frequently occurring soft tissue (STS) (red) and bone (blue) sarcomas and affected tissues. Sarcomas with a simple karyotype are referred to in italics. ARMS alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, ERMS embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, WD/DDLPS well-differentiated/dedifferentiated liposarcoma

This review provides a comprehensive up to date overview of the molecular mechanisms that underpin sarcomagenesis, the contribution of MSCs to modelling sarcomagenesis in vivo, as well as novel topics such as the role of epithelial-to-mesenchymal-transition (EMT)/mesenchymal-to-epithelial-transition (MET) plasticity, exosomes, and microRNAs in sarcomagenesis. It also reviews current therapeutic options including ongoing pre-clinical and clinical studies for targeted sarcoma therapy and discusses new therapeutic avenues such as targeting recently identified molecular pathways and key transcription factors.

Damerell, V., Pepper, M.S. & Prince, S. Molecular mechanisms underpinning sarcomas and implications for current and future therapy. Sig Transduct Target Ther 6, 246 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41392-021-00647-8

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