Theranostics 2011; 1:30-47. doi:10.7150/thno/v01p0030


Why Integrin as a Primary Target for Imaging and Therapy

Gang Niu1,2, Xiaoyuan Chen2

1. Imaging Sciences Training Program, Radiology and Imaging Sciences, Clinical Center and National Institute Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, NIH
2. Laboratory of Molecular Imaging and Nanomedicine, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD


Integrin-mediated cell adhesion is involved in many essential normal cellular and pathological functions including cell survival, growth, differentiation, migration, inflammatory responses, platelet aggregation, tissue repair and tumor invasion. 24 different heterodimerized transmembrane integrin receptors are combined from 18 different α and 8 different β subunits. Each integrin subunit contains a large extracellular domain, a single transmembrane domain and a usually short cytoplasmic domain. Integrins bind extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins through their large extracellular domain, and engage the cytoskeleton via their short cytoplasmic tails. These integrin-mediated linkages on either side of the plasma membrane are dynamically linked. Thus, integrins communicate over the plasma membrane in both directions, i.e., outside-in and inside-out signaling. In outside-in signaling through integrins, conformational changes of integrin induced by ligand binding on the extracellular domain altered the cytoplasmic domain structures to elicit various intracellular signaling pathways. Inside-out signaling originates from non-integrin cell surface receptors or cytoplasmic molecules and it activates signaling pathways inside the cells, ultimately resulting in the activation/deactivation of integrins. Integrins are one of key family proteins for cell adhesion regulation through binding to a large number of ECM molecules and cell membrane proteins. Lack of expression of integrins may result in a wide variety of effects ranging from blockage in pre-implantation to embryonic or perinatal lethality and developmental defects. Based on both the key role they played in angiogenesis, leukocytes function and tumor development and easy accessibility as cell surface receptors interacting with extracellular ligands, the integrin superfamily represents the best opportunity of targeting both antibodies and small-molecule antagonists for both therapeutic and diagnostic utility in various key diseases so far.

Keywords: Integrin, inside-out signaling, outside-in signaling, cell adhesion molecule, angiogenesis.

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How to cite this article:
Niu G, Chen X. Why Integrin as a Primary Target for Imaging and Therapy. Theranostics 2011; 1:30-47. doi:10.7150/thno/v01p0030. Available from