Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Cancer, bioelectrical signals and the microbiome connected


Tufts biologists show bioelectrical signals control tumors arising from cancer-causing genes; fatty acid involved in process

Developmental biologists at Tufts University, using a tadpole model, have shown that bioelectrical signals from distant cells control the incidence of tumors arising from cancer-causing genes and that this process is impacted by levels of a common fatty acid produced by bacteria found in the tadpole and also in humans.

"Genetic information is often not enough to determine whether a cell will become cancerous; you also have to take into account the physiology of the cell and the bioelectrical signals it receives from other tissues. This has huge implications for diagnostic technology as well as our basic understanding of the role of genetics and physiology in oncology," said Michael Levin, Ph.D., Vannevar Bush Professor of Biology and corresponding author of the paper in the journal Oncotarget that describes the research. The paper appeared online in advance of print on May 1.

"These data also suggest a number of ways we might prevent, detect and treat cancer," Levin added, "for example, by using ion channel drugs – "electroceuticals" -- to target the bioelectric state of distant sites in the body. Ion channel agents, such as anti-epileptic drugs, are already approved for human use. "

... more about:
»Cancer »Oncotarget »acid »butyrate »drugs »levels »oncogenes »tadpoles »tumors

Levin and Brook T. Chernet, Ph.D., injected Xenopus laevis tadpoles with oncogenes associated with many human cancers. The oncogenes caused tumor-like structures to form in these locations. Levin and Chernet's study showed that the incidence of tumor formation could be significantly reduced through misexpression of hyperpolarizing ion channels, which control current flow across a cell membrane, even when these electrical signals originated far from the oncogene-expressing cells. "These distant bioelectric signals suppressed tumor growth, despite the cells' continued high levels of oncogene protein," said Chernet, a former doctoral student in Levin's lab.

Further investigation revealed that the tumor-suppressing effects of hyperpolarization were regulated by a mechanism involving the short chain fatty acid butyrate and its target, the enzyme histone deacetylase. In humans, butyrate is produced in the colon by natural bacterial fermentation of carbohydrates, and butyrate has been shown to protect against colorectal cancer. To confirm that bacterial butyrate was also involved in regulating distant tumor formation in tadpoles, the researchers administered antibiotics; they found that the drugs indeed reduced butyrate production and thereby stopped membrane-voltage-based tumor suppression.

Programming Bacteria to Prevent Tumors

"Our research uncovers a promising connection between the microbiome and cancer that is controlled by alterations in bioelectric signaling and also opens up exciting possibilities for biomedicine. Imagine bacteria that are metabolically programmed to produce butyrate levels appropriate to prevent tumors," said Levin.

The distance over which carcinogenesis can be predicted and controlled has been addressed in a handful of earlier studies, including work by Levin and colleagues. Levin and Chernet have shown that aberrant bioelectrical properties of tissue revealed the location where tumors were likely to form and that melanoma-like growth could be triggered by bioelectrical signaling of instructor cells far from the melanocytes. The two biologists say that more research is needed to determine whether such signaling occurs in mammalian cancer models and over what distance.

The Tufts biologists are also intrigued by the question of whether cancers emit bioelectrical information that could be detectable at a distance from the tumors themselves. "It is tempting to speculate that the long-range signaling connections are bi-directional," says Levin.


The research was supported by funding from the G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation and DARPA (subaward W911NF-09-1-0125).

Chernet, B., & Levin, M. (2014). Transmembrane voltage potential of somatic cells controls oncogene-mediated tumorigenesis at long-range. Oncotarget, 5. This work was published May 1, 2014, online in advance of print.

Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoy a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.

Kim Thurler | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Cancer Oncotarget acid butyrate drugs levels oncogenes tadpoles tumors

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

nachricht Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein
22.03.2018 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Modular safety concept increases flexibility in plant conversion

22.03.2018 | Trade Fair News

New interactive map shows climate change everywhere in world

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

New technologies and computing power to help strengthen population data

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>