Researchers at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center have discovered that "microtentacles," or extensions of the plasma membrane of breast cancer cells, appear to play a key role in how cancers spread to distant locations in the body. Targeting these microtentacles might prove to be a new way to prevent or slow the growth of these secondary cancers, the scientists say.
They report in an article to be published online March 15, 2010, in the journal Oncogene that a protein called "tau" promotes the formation of these microtentacles on breast tumor cells which break away from primary cancers and circulate in the bloodstream. While twisted remnants of tau protein have been seen in the brain tissue of patients with Alzheimer's disease, this is the first report that tau could play a role in tumor metastasis by changing the shape of cancer cells. These tau-induced microtentacles can help the cells reattach to the walls of small blood vessels to create new pockets of cancer."Our study demonstrates that tau promotes the creation of microtentacles in breast tumor cells. These microtentacles increase the ability of circulating breast tumor cells to reattach in the small capillaries of the lung, where they can survive until they can seed new cancers," says the senior author, Stuart S. Martin, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center and associate professor of physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Michael A. Matrone, Ph.D., is the study's lead author.
"We hope that through our research, we will be able to identify drugs that will target the growth of these microtentacles and help to stop the spread of the original cancer. Drugs that reduce tau expression may hold potential to inhibit tumor metastasis," Dr. Martin says.
He notes that metastatic cancers are the leading cause of death in people with cancer, but methods used to treat primary tumors have limited success in treating metastatic cancer. In breast cancer, metastases can develop years after primary tumors are first discovered.
Tau is present in a subset of chemotherapy-resistant breast cancers and is also associated with poor prognosis, but Dr. Martin adds, "While tau expression has been studied in breast cancers for contributing to chemotherapy resistance, the protein's role in tumor cells circulating in the bloodstream hasn't been investigated. And that's the focus of our research."
In this recent study, the University of Maryland researchers analyzed breast tumor cells from 102 patients and found that 52 percent had tau in their metastatic tumors and 26 percent (27 patients) showed a significant increase in tau as their cancer progressed. Twenty-two of these patients even had tau in metastatic tumors despite having none in their primary tumors.Dr. Martin says more studies are needed to determine if tau is a clear predictor of metastasis. Given the complex nature of tumors, there most likely are other factors involved in causing cancers to spread, he says.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore, has filed patents on the microtentacle discoveries of Dr. Martin's lab group and is looking to partner with biopharmaceutical companies on new drug development. The researchers identified these cell extensions while they were studying the effects of two drugs that prevent cell division, or mitosis. Most chemotherapy drugs target cell division, aiming to slow or stop tumor growth.
Dr. Martin says his team found that a popular chemotherapy drug, taxol, actually causes cancer cell microtentacles to grow longer and allows tumor cells to reattach faster, which may have important treatment implications for breast cancer patients. Their studies are continuing.
"We think more research is needed into how chemotherapies that slow down cell division affect metastasis. The timing of giving these drugs can be particularly important. If you treat people with taxol before surgery to shrink the primary tumor, levels of circulating tumor cells go up 1,000 to 10,000 fold, potentially increasing metastasis," he adds.
The study being published in Oncogene was funded by grants from the National Cancer Institute, the USA Medical Research and Materiel Command, and the Flight Attendants Medical Research Institute.
Karen E. Warmkessel | EurekAlert!
Nanotubes built from protein crystals: Breakthrough in biomolecular engineering
15.11.2018 | Tokyo Institute of Technology
Insect Antibiotic Provides New Way to Eliminate Bacteria
15.11.2018 | Universität Zürich
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly
The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
15.11.2018 | Earth Sciences
15.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
15.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy