Chemokines are small, secreted proteins and are now the largest known cytokine family. They mediate their effects through a family of G-protein-coupled receptors and were initially recognized for their ability to act as chemo-attractants and activators of specific types of leucocytes in a variety of immune and inflammatory responses. However, during the past 5 years there has been a chemokine revolution in cancer and all scientists and clinicians in oncology-related fields are now aware of their crucial role at all stages of neoplastic transformation and progression. The most important chemokine ligand-receptor interaction is that of the CXCL12 (stromal cell-derived factor-1, SDF-1) ligand with its exclusive receptor CXCR4; this interaction has a pivotal role in the directional migration of cancer cells during the metastatic process. This has been demonstrated by in vitro and in vivo experiments in addition to retrospective clinical studies. These findings have exciting implications in the field of cancer therapeutics, with several small molecule CXCR4 antagonists having been developed, which may provide clinical benefit in the therapy of cancer metastasis. Interestingly, it is likely that the effect of the anti-HER2 antibody [trastuzumab (Herceptin®)] in breast cancer involves downregulation of the CXCR4 receptor. Unfortunately, a major problem is that chemokine receptors are expressed in other cells within the body, particularly those of the immune system and it is not clear what effects long-term CXCR4 antagonism could have on innate and adaptive immunity. However, there is little doubt that the great strides made in elucidating the complex relationship between chemokines and their role in cancer will soon translate into significant survival benefits for patients.

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