RANKL/RANK/OPG system beyond bone remodeling: Involvement in breast cancer and clinical perspectives

Marco Infante, Alessandra Fabi, Francesco Cognetti, Stefania Gorini, Massimiliano Caprio, Andrea Fabbri

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


RANKL/RANK/OPG system consists of three essential signaling molecules: i) the receptor activator of nuclear factor (NF)-kB-ligand (RANKL), ii) the receptor activator of NF-kB (RANK), and iii) the soluble decoy receptor osteoprotegerin (OPG). Although this system is critical for the regulation of osteoclast differentiation/activation and calcium release from the skeleton, different studies have elucidated its specific role in mammary gland physiology and hormone-driven epithelial proliferation during pregnancy. Of note, several data suggest that progesterone induces mammary RANKL expression in mice and humans. In turn, RANKL controls cell proliferation in breast epithelium under physiological conditions typically associated with higher serum progesterone levels, such as luteal phase of the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. Hence, RANKL/RANK system can be regarded as a major downstream mediator of progesterone-driven mammary epithelial cells proliferation, potentially contributing to breast cancer initiation and progression. Expression of RANKL, RANK, and OPG has been detected in breast cancer cell lines and in human primary breast cancers. To date, dysregulation of RANKL/RANK/OPG system at the skeletal level has been widely documented in the context of metastatic bone disease. In fact, RANKL inhibition through the RANKL-blocking human monoclonal antibody denosumab represents a well-established therapeutic option to prevent skeletal-related events in metastatic bone disease and adjuvant therapy-induced bone loss in breast cancer. On the other hand, the exact role of OPG in breast tumorigenesis is still unclear. This review focuses on molecular mechanisms linking RANKL/RANK/OPG system to mammary tumorigenesis, highlighting pre-clinical and clinical evidence for the potential efficacy of RANKL inhibition as a prevention strategy and adjuvant therapy in breast cancer settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 8 2019


  • Adjuvant Denosumab
  • Breast cancer
  • Breast tumorigenesis
  • Mammary gland
  • Metastatic bone disease
  • OPG
  • RANK
  • RANKL inhibition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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