"The real, life-threatening problem with most cancers is that they migrate away from the initial site," says Richard Anderson, a UW-Madison pharmacology professor and senior author of the paper. "If we could regulate a cell's ability to move in a selective way, we may be able to block cancer metastasis."
Researchers have identified several important factors involved in cell migration, but they continue to search for the mechanisms that regulate these key factors. Anderson and his group have found that the enzyme, noted scientifically as PIPKI?661, appears to underpin cells' ability to move from organ to organ.
Cells can migrate through the body because they have small clusters of proteins called focal adhesions. When these clusters, located on the cell surface, respond to signals from molecules on other cells, they bind to those molecules. Once attached, the focal adhesions can pull the cell forward. Like wheels on a skateboard, these adhesions then give cells the ability to move around the body.
The key to blocking this movement, says Anderson, is inhibiting the assembly of focal adhesions. But, as he adds, these protein clusters result from the activity of several key factors, which receive their signals from a number of sources - proteins inside the cell or molecules outside it. To block focal adhesion assembly, one would have to block this other activity.
The key to doing that appears to be the enzyme, PIPKI?661, identified by Anderson and his colleagues, Kun Ling and Renee Doughman.