Neurotrophin Trk Receptors: New Targets for Cancer Therapy

J Meldolesi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the last few years, exciting reports have emerged regarding the role of the two types of neurotrophin receptors, p75NTR and Trks, not only in neurons, where they were discovered, but also in non-neural cells and, especially, in numerous cancers, including breast, lung, colon-rectum, pancreas, prostate, glioblastoma, neuroblastoma, myeloma, and lymphoid tumors. Traditionally, p75NTR, activated by all neurotrophins and their precursors, is an inhibitor. In various cancers, however, activated p75NTR induces variable effects, from inhibition to stimulation of cell proliferation, dependent on their direct or coordinate/indirect mechanism(s) of action. TrkA, TrkB, and TrkC, activated by distinct neurotrophins, are high affinity stimulatory receptors. In cancers, activation of Trks, especially of TrkB, are stimulators of cell proliferation, aggressiveness, and metastases. In rare cancers, these processes are due not to receptor activation but to fusion or mutation of the encoding genes. A considerable panel of anti-Trk drugs, developed recently, has been investigated both in vitro and in living mice for their effects on cancer cells. Many such drugs protect from cancers by preventing cell proliferation and inducing apoptosis. At present, these drugs are under control by trials, to promote introduction in human therapy. Moreover, anti-Trk drugs have been employed also in combination with classical chemotherapeutic drugs. So far, studies in mice have been positive. The chemotherapeutic/anti-receptor combinations exhibited in fact increased potency and down-regulation of resistance, with no increase of side effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-79
Number of pages13
JournalReviews of Physiology Biochemistry and Pharmacology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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