Extensive remodeling of the extracellular matrix, together with paracrine communication between tumor cells and stromal cells, contribute to an “activated” tumor microenvironment that supports malignant growth and progression. These stromal cells include inflammatory cells, endothelial cells, and cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs). Integrins are expressed on all tumor and stromal cell types where they regulate both cell adhesion and bidirectional signal transduction across the cell membrane. In this capacity, integrins control pro-tumorigenic cell autonomous functions such as growth and survival, as well as paracrine crosstalk between tumor cells and stromal cells. The myofibroblast-like properties of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), such as robust contractility and extracellular matrix (ECM) deposition, allow them to generate both chemical and mechanical signals that support invasive tumor growth. In this review, we discuss the roles of integrins in regulating the ability of CAFs to generate and respond to extracellular cues in the tumor microenvironment. Since functions of specific integrins in CAFs are only beginning to emerge, we take advantage of a more extensive literature on how integrins regulate wound myofibroblast differentiation and function, as some of these integrin functions are likely to extrapolate to CAFs within the tumor microenvironment. In addition, we discuss the roles that integrins play in controlling paracrine signals that emanate from epithelial/tumor cells to stimulate fibroblasts/CAFs.
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