Sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation in cancer: therapeutic implications

Atsunori Kamiya, Takeshi Hiyama, Atsushi Fujimura, Soichiro Yoshikawa

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The autonomic nervous system, consisting of sympathetic and parasympathetic/vagal nerves, is known to control the functions of any organ, maintaining whole-body homeostasis under physiological conditions. Recently, there has been increasing evidence linking sympathetic and parasympathetic/vagal nerves to cancers. The present review aimed to summarize recent developments from studies addressing the relationship between sympathetic and parasympathetic/vagal nerves and cancer behavior. Methods: Literature review. Results: Human and animal studies have revealed that sympathetic and parasympathetic/vagal nerves innervate the cancer microenvironment and alter cancer behavior. The sympathetic nerves have cancer-promoting effects on prostate cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma. On the other hand, while the parasympathetic/vagal nerves have cancer-promoting effects on prostate, gastric, and colorectal cancers, they have cancer-suppressing effects on breast and pancreatic cancers. These neural effects may be mediated by β-adrenergic or muscarinic receptors and can be explained by changes in cancer cell behavior, angiogenesis, tumor-associated macrophages, and adaptive antitumor immunity. Conclusions: Sympathetic nerves innervating the tumor microenvironment promote cancer progression and are related to stress-induced cancer behavior. The parasympathetic/vagal nerves have variable (promoting or suppressing) effects on different cancer types. Approaches directed toward the sympathetic and parasympathetic/vagal nerves can be developed as a new cancer therapy. In addition to existing pharmacological, surgical, and electrical approaches, a recently developed virus vector-based genetic local neuroengineering technology is a powerful approach that selectively manipulates specific types of nerve fibers innervating the cancer microenvironment and leads to the suppression of cancer progression. This technology will enable the creation of "cancer neural therapy" individually tailored to different cancer types.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-178
Number of pages14
JournalClinical Autonomic Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Autonomic nerve
  • Cancer
  • Cancer neural therapy
  • Parasympathetic nerve
  • Stress
  • Sympathetic nerve
  • Vagal nerve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Clinical Neurology


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