Cancer-associated fibroblasts: Versatile players in the tumor microenvironment

Debolina Ganguly, Raghav Chandra, John Karalis, Martha Teke, Todd Aguilera, Ravikanth Maddipati, Megan B. Wachsmann, Dario Ghersi, Giulia Siravegna, Herbert J. Zeh, Rolf Brekken, David T. Ting, Matteo Ligorio

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) are indispensable architects of the tumor microenvironment. They perform the essential functions of extracellular matrix deposition, stromal remodeling, tumor vasculature modulation, modification of tumor metabolism, and participation in crosstalk between cancer and immune cells. In this review, we discuss our current understanding of the principal differences between normal fibroblasts and CAFs, the origin of CAFs, their functions, and ultimately, highlight the intimate connection of CAFs to virtually all of the hallmarks of cancer. We address the remarkable degree of functional diversity and phenotypic plasticity displayed by CAFs and strive to stratify CAF biology among different tumor types into practical functional groups. Finally, we summarize the status of recent and ongoing trials of CAF-directed therapies and contend that the paucity of trials resulting in Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals thus far is a consequence of the failure to identify targets exclusive of pro-tumorigenic CAF phenotypes that are mechanistically linked to specific CAF functions. We believe that the development of a unified CAF nomenclature, the standardization of functional assays to assess the loss-of-function of CAF properties, and the establishment of rigorous definitions of CAF subpopulations and their mechanistic functions in cancer progression will be crucial to fully realize the promise of CAF-targeted therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2652
Pages (from-to)1-35
Number of pages35
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • CAF therapeutics
  • Cancer-associated fibroblasts
  • Chemoresistance
  • Clinical trials targeting CAFs
  • Hallmarks of cancer
  • Heterogeneity
  • Immunomodulation
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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