Role of myeloid-derived suppressor cells in metastasis

Kathryn Cole, Kristina Pravoverov, James E. Talmadge

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The spread of primary tumor cells to distant organs, termed metastasis, is the principal cause of cancer mortality and is a critical therapeutic target in oncology. Thus, a better understanding of metastatic progression is critical for improved therapeutic approaches requiring insight into the timing of tumor cell dissemination and seeding of distant organs, which can lead to the formation of occult lesions. However, due to limitations in imaging techniques, primary tumors can only be detected when they reach a relatively large size (e.g., > 1 cm3), which, based on our understanding of tumor evolution, is 10 to 20 years (30 doubling times) following tumor initiation. Recent insights into the timing of metastasis are based on the genomic profiling of paired primary tumors and metastases, suggesting that tumor cell seeding of secondary sites occurs early during tumor progression and years prior to diagnosis. Following seeding, tumor cells may remain in a dormant state as single cells or micrometastases before emerging as overt lesions. This timeline and the role of metastatic dormancy are regulated by interactions between the tumor, its microenvironment, and tumor-specific T cell responses. An improved understanding of the mechanisms and interactions responsible for immune evasion and tumor cell release from dormancy would support the development of novel targeted therapeutics. We posit herein that the immunosuppressive mechanisms mediated by myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) are a major contributor to tumor progression, and that these mechanisms promote tumor cell escape from dormancy. Thus, while extensive studies have demonstrated a role for MDSCs in the escape from adoptive and innate immune responses (T-, natural killer (NK)-, and B cell responses), facilitating tumor progression and metastasis, few studies have considered their role in dormancy. In this review, we discuss the role of MDSC expansion, driven by tumor burden, and its role in escape from dormancy, resulting in occult metastases, and the potential for MDSC inhibition as an approach to prolong the survival of patients with advanced malignancies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-411
Number of pages21
JournalCancer and Metastasis Reviews
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Circulating tumor cells
  • Dormancy
  • Metastasis
  • Myeloid-derived suppressor cells
  • Pre-metastatic niche

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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