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Malignant melanoma cells secrete protein required for embryo formation

A Northwestern University research group has discovered that aggressive melanoma cells secrete Nodal, a protein that is critical to proper embryo formation.

An article describing this research was published today in the advanced online issue of the journal Nature Medicine. The researchers identified the potent and highly unstable embryonic growth factor by injecting aggressive melanoma cells into developing zebrafish embryos, which were used as "biosensors" for tumor cell-derived signals, and were consequently able to induce ectopic (abnormal) embryonic skull and backbone (axes) formation.

"This finding highlights the convergence of tumorigenic and embryonic signaling pathways. From a translational perspective, Nodal signaling provides a novel target for treatment of aggressive cancers such as melanomas," said Mary J. C. Hendrix, the corresponding author, of Children's Memorial Research Center where the discovery was made.

Hendrix is president and scientific director of the Children's Memorial Research Center, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a member of the executive committee of The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Jolanta M. Topczewska and Lynne-Marie Postovit, from Children's Memorial Research Center, co-led the study. Working with Brian Nickoloff of the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, the investigators found that Nodal protein was present in 60 percent of cutaneous (skin) metastatic melanoma tumors but is absent in normal skin.

They also found that blocking Nodal signaling reduced melanoma cell invasiveness, as well as cancer cell colony formation and tumor-forming ability. Strikingly, nodal inhibition promoted the reversion of these cells toward a normal skin cell type. Like embryonic stem cells, malignant tumor cells similarly receive and send molecular cues during development that
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Contact: Elizabeth Crown
e-crown@northwestern.edu
312-503-8928
Northwestern University
30-Jul-2006


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