The Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription (STAT)3 and 5 proteins are activated by many cytokine receptors to regulate specific gene expression and mitochondrial functions. Their role in cancer is largely context-dependent as they can both act as oncogenes and tumor suppressors. We review here the role of STAT3/5 activation in solid cancers and summarize their association with survival in cancer patients. The molecular mechanisms that underpin the oncogenic activity of STAT3/5 signaling include the regulation of genes that control cell cycle and cell death. However, recent advances also highlight the critical role of STAT3/5 target genes mediating inflammation and stemness. In addition, STAT3 mitochondrial functions are required for transformation. On the other hand, several tumor suppressor pathways act on or are activated by STAT3/5 signaling, including tyrosine phosphatases, the sumo ligase Protein Inhibitor of Activated STAT3 (PIAS3), the E3 ubiquitin ligase TATA Element Modulatory Factor/Androgen Receptor-Coactivator of 160 kDa (TMF/ARA160), the miRNAs miR-124 and miR-1181, the Protein of alternative reading frame 19 (p19ARF)/p53 pathway and the Suppressor of Cytokine Signaling 1 and 3 (SOCS1/3) proteins. Cancer mutations and epigenetic alterations may alter the balance between pro-oncogenic and tumor suppressor activities associated with STAT3/5 signaling, explaining their context-dependent association with tumor progression both in human cancers and animal models.
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