Aggressive tumor cells leave a trail in their environment that affects the spread of cancer

IOWA CITY, Iowa The environment around and between cells is known as the extracellular matrix and is full of molecules that play important roles in how tissues look and behave. In a new study, University of Iowa researchers and their collaborators have shown that highly aggressive melanoma cells interact with this matrix differently than less aggressive melanoma cells. These differences may have important implications for the diagnosis and treatment of melanoma, as well as other types of aggressive cancers.

The researchers found that aggressive melanoma cells lay down a molecular track as they interact with their extracellular matrix. These tracks appear to contain information and cues which, like bread crumbs on a path, contain information and directions that can be interpreted by less aggressive tumor cells. These cues may persist in the matrix long after the aggressive tumor cells have moved on and then cause less aggressive cells, which move into this area, to become more aggressive.

The UI team, led by Mary J.C. Hendrix, Ph.D., the Kate Daum Research Professor and head of anatomy and cell biology, and deputy director of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI, collaborated with researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and researchers at the National Human Genome Institute and the National Cancer Institute, both parts of the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md.

Their research findings are reported in the Sept. 1 issue of the journal Cancer Research. Images from the study are featured on the cover of the journal.

"We wanted to know what these aggressive cancer cells were doing to their extracellular matrix environment," said Richard E. B. Seftor, Ph.D., a research scientist in Hendrix's laboratory and lead author of the paper. "We found that aggressive melanoma cells could alter their environment and cause other less aggressive melanoma cells to act more aggressively."


Contact: Jennifer Brown
University of Iowa

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