14.2: Autocrine Signaling
Secreted signals can act on a variety of target cells. In some cases, the cell that secretes a signal also detects and responds to the signaling molecule it produces; this is called Autocrine Signaling.
Under normal physiological conditions, autocrine signaling is important for homeostasis. This process is well characterized in the macrophages of the immune system. Macrophages secrete a variety of signals including the cytokine Interleukin-1, IL-1. The secreting macrophages also possess membrane receptors for IL-1 that, when bound, can activate an intracellular signaling cascade. The resulting intracellular signals trigger the secretion of additional cytokines including more IL-1 from the target cell. Though IL-1 secreted by these macrophages can also bind to receptors on other cells and cell types, binding to the signaling cell is important in the regulation of signal production.
Autocrine signaling is also a major mechanism of cancer cell proliferation. Cancerous cells secrete a variety of growth signals to themselves, through autocrine signaling, and to nearby tissues. For example, progesterone appears to act in an autocrine manner in breast cancer, whereby progesterone binds to progesterone receptors on the signaling cell, stimulating the action of growth-promoting genes. Autocrine signaling can also play a role in the development of skin cancer by stimulating the development of new blood vessels that nourish tumor cells.