Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Metabolic pathway makes breast tumors more aggressive


Researchers from the University of Würzburg have revealed a metabolic pathway that seems to make breast tumors more aggressive. The study will also identify possible targets for new cancers drugs. It will appear shortly in the renowned journal Cancer Cell.

The project involved scientists from Berlin, Cambridge, and San Francisco. For their study, this research team examined a protein known as MYC. MYC is a powerful oncogene. Under certain conditions it causes cells to multiply in an uncontrolled manner. This is the case in some highly aggressive breast tumors, for example. The more that cancer cells form MYC, the more malignant they become and the harder they are to treat.

Section through the mammary gland of a mouse. The regions in which the stems cells are located are stained red. In this image, deliberate genetically engineered changes result in the formation of large quantities of MYC, controlling the categorization of stem cells as breast tissue. (Image: Biocenter at the University of Würzburg)

Stem cells of the breast are normally in standby mode. When they receive the signal from MYC that they should form new tissue, they begin to divide. The cells consume a huge amount of energy for their division. They obtain this from special cellular power plants, the mitochondria (stained orange in the figure). In the end, the high demand for energy indirectly causes the cells to lose their stem cell properties, so they can only form breast tissue. (Image: Biocenter at the University of Würzburg)

At the same time, however, MYC assumes a key role in the body. It is involved in regulating adult stem cells. At some point in their lives cells normally decide on a fixed career path, becoming skin cells, liver cells or nerve cells, for example. They cannot abandon this path; for instance, a skin cell will never turn into a liver cell.

Adult stem cells, on the other hand, are pluripotent – their fate has yet to be decided fully. The adult stem cells of the breast, as an example, have yet to categorize themselves as the various types of tissue of the mammary gland. MYC controls this process. “We have been able to show how exactly MYC does this,” explains Dr. Björn von Eyss from the Biocenter at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg.

They found that MYC stimulates stem cell division. To do this it needs a lot of energy. This increased energy consumption activates an enzyme known as AMPK. This enzyme in turn indirectly disables the stem cell program. As a result, the new cells become set on their career: they categorize themselves as breast tissue and lose their stem cell properties.

Dangerous safeguard mechanism

“Stem cell division and categorization are therefore linked,” stresses Björn von Eyss. “We interpret this as a mechanism to safeguard against cancer: The stem cell cannot simply become random tissue types that keep on dividing in an uncontrolled manner.”
Astonishingly, however, this mechanism seems to have precisely the opposite effect in tumor cells of the breast. There, too, MYC activates the AMPK enzyme. But this makes the tumor even more aggressive and harder to treat. The Würzburg researchers are keen to take a closer look in future at why this happens.

A high level of MYC therefore worsens the prognosis for breast cancer patients considerably. “If we prevent the activity of MYC in mice using genetic engineering, on the other hand, the tumors become more benign again,” says von Eyss. However, MYC is unfortunately not a suitable target for drugs, partly due to its diverse range of effects.

So, the researchers have now set their sights instead on the signaling pathway they have identified. “We are looking specifically for agents that reduce the activity of AMPK, for example,” explains von Eyss. “We may be able to use such agents to make tumors grow less aggressively and respond to drugs better.”

Björn von Eyss, Laura A. Jaenicke, Roderik M. Kortlever, Nadine Royla, Katrin E.Wiese, Sebastian Letschert, Leigh-Anne McDuffus, Markus Sauer, Andreas Rosenwald, Gerard I. Evan, Stefan Kempa, and Martin Eilers: A MYC-driven change in mitochondrial dynamics limits YAP/TAZ function in mammary epithelial cells and breast cancer; Cancer Cell;

By Frank Luerweg


Dr. Björn von Eyss, Biocenter at the University of Würzburg, T +49 (0)931 31-82695,

Weitere Informationen:

Robert Emmerich | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht When fat cells change their colour
28.10.2016 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Aquaculture: Clear Water Thanks to Cork
28.10.2016 | Technologie Lizenz-Büro (TLB) der Baden-Württembergischen Hochschulen GmbH

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>