Rice University


Cancer Cells Coordinate to Form Roving Clusters

Rice University scientists identify ‘smoking gun’ in metastasis of hybrid cells.

Two-way communication between cancer cells appears to be key to their becoming motile, clustering and spreading through metastasis, according to Rice University scientists.

Members of Rice’s Center for Theoretical Biological Physics have developed a model of how cancer cells twist a complex system of signals and feedback loops to their advantage. These signals help the cells detach from primary tumors and form clusters that lead to often-fatal metastatic disease.

The Rice team reported in 2015 that the notch signaling pathway that involves proteins known as “notch,” “jagged” and “delta” can be hijacked by cancerous cells. In normal operation, the mechanism is critical to embryonic development and wound healing and typically activates when a delta ligand of one cell interacts with the notch receptor of another. Their new paper in The Royal Society journal Interface advances the theory that cancer cells use these proteins, particularly jagged, to not only establish two-way signals that turn them into hybrid epithelial–mesenchymal cells but also to form mobile clusters.

“In general, our interest has been in the decision cells make by which they leave the primary tumor,” said Rice theoretical biological physicist Herbert Levine. “The epithelial cells are in the primary tumor are aberrant. Still, they look like normal cells, even though they’re growing where they shouldn’t. But cancer only turns truly deadly when cells leave and start new growths elsewhere in the body.” Read more...

May 19, 2016