Glioblastoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), is the most aggressive of human brain tumors and has a stunning progression with a mean survival of one year from the date of diagnosis. High cell proliferation, angiogenesis and/or necrosis are histopathological features of this cancer, which has no efficient curative therapy. This aggressiveness is associated with particular heterogeneity of the tumor featuring multiple genetic and epigenetic alterations, but also with implications of aberrant signaling driven by growth factors. The transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) superfamily is a large group of structurally related proteins including TGFβ subfamily members Nodal, Activin, Lefty, bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) and growth and differentiation factor (GDF). It is involved in important biological functions including morphogenesis, embryonic development, adult stem cell differentiation, immune regulation, wound healing and inflammation. This superfamily is also considered to impact on cancer biology including that of GBM, with various effects depending on the member. The TGFβ subfamily, in particular, is overexpressed in some GBM types which exhibit aggressive phenotypes. This subfamily impairs anti-cancer immune responses in several ways, including immune cells inhibition and major histocompatibility (MHC) class I and II abolishment. It promotes GBM angiogenesis by inducing angiogenic factors such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), plasminogen activator inhibitor (PAI-I) and insulinlike growth factor-binding protein 7 (IGFBP7), contributes to GBM progression by inducing metalloproteinases (MMPs), "pro-neoplastic" integrins (αvβ3, α5β1) and GBM initiating cells (GICs) as well as inducing a GBM mesenchymal phenotype. Equally, Nodal promotes GICs, induces cancer metabolic switch and supports GBM cell proliferation, but is negatively regulated by Lefty. Activin promotes GBM cell proliferation while GDF yields immune-escape function. On the other hand, BMPs target GICS and induce differentiation and sensitivity to chemotherapy. This multifaceted involvement of this superfamily in GBM necessitates different strategies in anti-cancer therapy. While suppressing the TGFβ subfamily yields advantageous results, enhancing BMPs production is also beneficial.
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