Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Jamming a protein signal forces cancer cells to devour themselves


Inhibiting cancer-promoting prolactin causes unconventional cell death in preclinical research

Under stress from chemotherapy or radiation, some cancer cells dodge death by consuming a bit of themselves, allowing them to essentially sleep through treatment and later awaken as tougher, resistant disease.

Interfering with a single cancer-promoting protein and its receptor can turn this resistance mechanism into lethal, runaway self-cannibalization, researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center report in the journal Cell Reports.

"Prolactin is a potent growth factor for many types of cancers, including ovarian cancer," said senior author Anil Sood, M.D., professor of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. "When we block prolactin signaling, it sets off a chain of downstream events that result in cell death by autophagy."

Autophagy – self-eating – is a natural cellular defense against lack of nutrients and other stressors. It also recycles damaged organelles and proteins for new use by the cell. Autophagy puts the cell in an inactive quiet state called quiescence, which allows it to recover, Sood said. For cancer cells, it's a way to survive treatment.

"Our findings provide a clinical rationale for blocking prolactin and its receptor and for using prolonged autophagy as an alternative strategy for treating cancers," said Yunfei Wen, Ph.D., first author of this study and instructor of Gynecologic Oncology.

Steep reductions in tumor weight for mice with ovarian cancer

Prolactin (PRL) is a hormone previously implicated in ovarian, endometrial and other cancer development and progression. When PRL binds to its cell membrane receptor, PRLR, activation of cancer-promoting cell signaling pathways follows. Poor understanding of the underlying processes has made the pathway hard to target for cancer treatment, Sood said.

Given that knowledge, the researchers started with mouse experiments and worked backward to cell line experiments, a reversal of the usual order of preclinical cancer research.

A slight variant of normal prolactin called G129R interferes with the connection between prolactin and its receptor. Using G129R, Sood and colleagues treated mice that had two different lines of human ovarian cancer that each expresses the prolactin receptor.

After 28 days of treatment with G129R, tumor weights fell by 50 percent for mice with either type of ovarian cancer. Adding the taxane-based chemotherapy agent paclitaxel, commonly used to treat ovarian cancer, cut tumor weight by 90 percent. Higher doses of G129R may result in even greater therapeutic benefit, Sood said.

The mice did not otherwise lose weight, suffer lowered blood counts or show any other sign of toxicity of side effects from G129R treatment in the liver, spleen or kidneys.

3D experiments show death by self-eating

The team used three-dimensional culture of cancer spheroids, where treatment with the prolactin-mimicking peptide sharply reduced the number of spheroids. Treatment also blocked the activation of JAK2 and STAT signaling pathways known to promote cancer.

Protein analysis in the treated spheroids showed increased presence of autophagy factors and genomic analysis revealed increased expression of a number of genes involved in autophagy progression and cell death.

A series of experiments using fluorescence and electron microscopy showed that the cytosol of treated cells had large numbers of cavities caused by autophagy, a hallmark of autophagy-induced cell death.

Autophagy works by encasing targeted proteins or organelles in a membrane, which then connects with lysosomes that dissolve the contents, leaving empty cavities, or vacuoles. Adding an autophagy inhibitor reversed the treatment effect of G129R in the 3D spheres.

Connection to ovarian cancer patient survival

The team also connected the G129R-induced autophagy to the activity of PEA-15, a known cancer inhibitor. Analysis of tumor samples from 32 ovarian cancer patients showed that tumors express higher levels of the prolactin receptor and lower levels of phosphorylated PEA-15 than normal ovarian tissue.

Patients with low levels of the prolactin receptor and higher PEA-15 had longer overall survival than those with high PRLR and low PEA-15.


The researchers are working to take G129R to clinical trials said Sood, who holds the Bettyann Asche Murray Distinguished Professorship in Ovarian Cancer Research.

Co-authors with Wen and Sood are Behrouz Zand, M.D., Chunhua Lu, M.D., Ph.D., Amy Carroll, M.D., Yu Kang, M.D., Ph.D., Rajesha Rupaimoole, Heather Dalton, M.D., and Robert Coleman, M.D., of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine; Bulent Ozpolat, M.D., Ph.D., Erkan Yuca, Ph.D., Neslihan Alpay, Ph.D., Ibrahim Tekedereli, M.D., Walter Hittelman, Ph.D., and Gabriel Lopez-Berestein

Scott Merville | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Cancer Gynecologic Oncology autophagy death ovarian prolactin receptor

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

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

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

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...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | 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

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>