Exploring the links between cancer and placenta development

Vincenzo Costanzo, Alberto Bardelli, Salvatore Siena, Sergio Abrignani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The development of metastatic cancer is a multistage process, which often requires decades to complete. Impairments in DNA damage control and DNA repair in cancer cell precursors generate genetically heterogeneous cell populations. However, despite heterogeneity most solid cancers have stereotypical behaviours, including invasiveness and suppression of immune responses that can be unleashed with immunotherapy targeting lymphocyte checkpoints. The mechanisms leading to the acquisition of stereotypical properties remain poorly understood. Reactivation of embryonic development processes in cells with unstable genomes might contribute to tumour expansion and metastasis formation. However, it is unclear whether these events are linked to immune response modulation. Tumours and embryos have non-self-components and need to avoid immune responses in their microenvironment. In mammalian embryos, neo-antigens are of paternal origin, while in tumour cells DNA mismatch repair and replication defects generate them. Inactivation of the maternal immune response towards the embryo, which occurs at the placental-maternal interface, is key to ensuring embryonic development. This regulation is accomplished by the trophoblast, which mimics several malignant cell features, including the ability to invade normal tissues and to avoid host immune responses, often adopting the same cancer immunoediting strategies. A better understanding as to whether and how genotoxic stress promotes cancer development through reactivation of programmes occurring during early stages of mammalian placentation could help to clarify resistance to drugs targeting immune checkpoint and DNA damage responses and to develop new therapeutic strategies to eradicate cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number180081
JournalOpen Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Cancer
  • DNA damage response
  • DNA repair

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Immunology
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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