The research was published in the Nov. 18 early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences and appears in the journal’s Nov. 25 print edition.
“Bonding between cells has important health implications,” said the study’s senior author, Denis Wirtz, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins. “When cancer cells break free from their neighbors, they can spread the disease through the body. If we can learn more about this process, we may find new ways to keep cancer in check.”
Toward that goal, Wirtz, who also is associate director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, led a multi-institution team that focused on alpha-catenin, a small protein that floats in the cytoplasm, the gel-like material that surrounds the nucleus inside a cell. Alpha-catenin allows cells to recognize neighboring cells as “friends” almost immediately, leading to the creation of many strong bonds that are hard to break. However, cancer cells, including those found in diffuse gastric cancer and lung cancer, possess dysfunctional alpha-catenin and form very weak bonds with their neighbors. This allows them to break free from cell masses and spread cancer throughout the body.
To better understand these bonding characteristics, Wirtz and his colleagues used a technique called atomic force microscopy to study single cells with and without functioning alpha-catenin. This technique records tiny forces, measured in nanoNewtons, that cells exert upon one another.
Wirtz’s team discovered that normal cells with properly functioning alpha-catenin formed bonds that were four times more stable than those without functional alpha-catenin, and these first bonds formed in less than 1 millisecond. The longer the cells remained in contact with one another, the more numerous and stronger these bonds became. The connections between these cells resembled those that occur with a popular type of fastener material. “This accelerated formation of additional bonds between neighboring cells was akin to the ‘Velcro’ effect,” Wirtz said.
In contrast, cells without functional alpha-catenin formed weak bonds from the onset. Also, even as these cells remained in contact, bonding strengths continued to diminish. Wirtz suggested that if scientists could figure out a way to repair or replace the alpha-catenin dysfunction found in some cancer cells, it could lead to a therapy that thwarts the spread of cancer.
The research team members included Sean Sun, a Johns Hopkins associate professor of mechanical engineering; Saumendra Bajpai, a graduate student in the Johns Hopkins Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Gianpaolo Suriano, Joana Figueiredo and Joana Correia, all affiliated with the Institute of Molecular Pathology and Immunology of the University of Porto, Portugal; and Gregory Longmore and Yunfeung Feng of the departments of Medicine and Cell Biology, Washington University of St. Louis.
This work was supported by grants from the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health.
Color image of Denis Wirtz available; contact Mary Spiro.Related links:
Mary Spiro | Newswise Science News
Cryo-electron microscopy achieves unprecedented resolution using new computational methods
24.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
How cheetahs stay fit and healthy
24.03.2017 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy