Neuroectodermic tumors can mostly be characterized by the presence of tumor-associated glycosphingolipid antigens, such as gangliosides, defined by monoclonal antibodies. Recently, cumulative evidence indicates that gangliosides modify the biological effects of several trophic factors, in vitro and in vivo, as well as the mitogenic signaling cascade that these factors generate. The functional roles of gangliosides in tumor progression can be revisited: (i) ganglioside antigens on the cell surface, or shed from the cells, act as immunosuppressors, as typically observed for the suppression of cytotoxic T cells and dendritic cells, (ii) certain gangliosides, such as GD3 or GM2, promote tumor-associated angiogenesis, (iii) gangliosides strongly regulate cell adhesion/motility and thus initiate tumor metastasis, (iv) ganglioside antigens are directly connected with transducer molecules in microdomains to initiate adhesion coupled with signaling, and (v) ganglioside antigens and their- catabolites are modulators of signal transduction through interaction with tyrosine kinases associated with growth factor receptors or other protein kinases. Given the potential importance of these sialylated gangliosides and their modulating biological behavior in vivo, further studies on the role of gangliosides are warranted.
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