Nav: Home

Cancer cells use nerve-cell tricks to spread from one organ to the next

September 30, 2020

Tumors come in many shapes and forms--curable or deadly, solid or liquid, lodged inside the brain, bone, or other tissues. One thing they all have in common, however, is a knack for molecular deceit. It is often by posing as normal cells, or by hijacking them, that cancer cells advance their takeover of biological systems and learn to grow, survive, and spread to new organs.

Recently, Rockefeller scientists found that breast and lung tumors can appropriate a signaling pathway used by neurons to metastasize. In a report published in Nature, the researchers describe how these cancer cells enlist nearby blood vessels to gain access to this nerve signal, ultimately enabling their escape from the primary tumor and into the bloodstream.

In addition to illuminating previously unseen aspects of tumors' relationship with their surroundings, the findings could lead to new strategies for diagnostics and treatment.

Blood vessels: more than just tumor tubing

The classic example of a tumor's pirate tactics is its ability to attract nearby blood vessels and hook itself up to the body's central oxygen and nutrient supply. Years ago, scientists in Sohail Tavazoie's lab observed that tumors that eventually metastasize tend to recruit more vessels than those that don't, adding fuel to a long-held suspicion that infiltrating vasculature isn't merely helping tumors survive and grow: It might also be participating in the lesser-understood process by which some cancer cells are capable of leaving their site of origin and seed new tumors elsewhere in the body.

"We hypothesized that cells in the inner lining of blood-vessels send a signal that instructs cancer cells within the primary tumor to metastasize," Tavazoie says.

Bernardo Tavora, a research associate in the lab and first author of the recent paper, set out to look for that signal using a combination of sophisticated genetic, molecular, and biochemical approaches--including a modified form of TRAP, a technology developed in the lab of Nathaniel Heinz that makes it possible to pinpoint subtle differences between otherwise-similar cells and the proteins they produce. Ultimately, Tavora and his colleagues identified the signal as Slit2, a protein normally produced by neurons. In addition, they were able to explain how cancer cells get their hands on it.

When it first popped up in the search, Slit2 immediately rang a bell. In the nervous system, this signaling molecule is known to help guide nerve-cell extensions as they travel from one part of the brain to the other--for example, previous work in the lab of Rockefeller's Cori Bargmann has revealed that it regulates connectivity among neurons in worms.

The researchers found that breast and lung cancer cells use what Tavazoie calls "an intricate and elegant mechanism" to coax blood-vessel cells into making and releasing Slit2--just enough of a dose to help the cancer cells start migrating. "The cells first activate normally silenced DNA to produce double-stranded RNA, which in turn acts as a signal to trigger their own movement out of the primary tumor and into the blood, from where they can spread to other organs," he says.

Slit2 and other molecules identified in this pathway could potentially serve as diagnostics--for example, by helping physicians identify patients whose cancers have left the primary tumor before it's too late to intervene. "There's also a chance that inhibiting these pathways could open the door to novel cancer drugs that curb metastasis," says Tavora.

Rockefeller University

Related Cancer Cells Articles:

New way to target some rapidly dividing cancer cells, leaving healthy cells unharmed
Scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Oxford say they have found a new way to kill some multiplying human breast cancer cells by selectively attacking the core of their cell division machinery.
Breast cancer cells use message-carrying vesicles to send oncogenic stimuli to normal cells
According to a Wistar study, breast cancer cells starved for oxygen send out messages that induce oncogenic changes in surrounding normal epithelial cells.
Breast cancer cells turn killer immune cells into allies
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have discovered that breast cancer cells can alter the function of immune cells known as Natural killer (NK) cells so that instead of killing the cancer cells, they facilitate their spread to other parts of the body.
Breast cancer cells can reprogram immune cells to assist in metastasis
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center investigators report they have uncovered a new mechanism by which invasive breast cancer cells evade the immune system to metastasize, or spread, to other areas of the body.
Engineered immune cells recognize, attack human and mouse solid-tumor cancer cells
CAR-T therapy has been used successfully in patients with blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia.
New liver cancer research targets non-cancer cells to blunt tumor growth
'Senotherapy,' a treatment that uses small molecule drugs to target ''senescent'' cells, or those cells that no longer undergo cell division, blunts liver tumor progression in animal models according to new research from a team led by Celeste Simon, PhD, a professor of Cell and Developmental Biology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and scientific director of the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute.
Drug that keeps surface receptors on cancer cells makes them more visible to immune cells
A drug that is already clinically available for the treatment of nausea and psychosis, called prochlorperazine (PCZ), inhibits the internalization of receptors on the surface of tumor cells, thereby increasing the ability of anticancer antibodies to bind to the receptors and mount more effective immune responses.
Engineered bone marrow cells slow growth of prostate and pancreatic cancer cells
In experiments with mice, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center say they have slowed the growth of transplanted human prostate and pancreatic cancer cells by introducing bone marrow cells with a specific gene deletion to induce a novel immune response.
First phase i clinical trial of CRISPR-edited cells for cancer shows cells safe and durable
Following the first US test of CRISPR gene editing in patients with advanced cancer, researchers report these patients experienced no negative side effects and that the engineered T cells persisted in their bodies -- for months.
Zika virus' key into brain cells ID'd, leveraged to block infection and kill cancer cells
Two different UC San Diego research teams identified the same molecule -- αvβ5 integrin -- as Zika virus' key to brain cell entry.
More Cancer Cells News and Cancer Cells Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.