Scientists are examining a mechanism that normally causes cells to repel each other, in order to better understand the spread of cancer through the body.
Cells typically produce protrusions by which they navigate their environment. When two cells meet, the protrusions cause the cells to change direction, effectively leading them to “repel” one another.
This phenomenon, called contact inhibition of locomotion, was first observed 50 years ago. Failure of a cell to produce the effect was thought to contribute to the invasions of malignant cancer in healthy regions of the body.
Experts at University College London (UCL) have, for the first time, observed the mechanism in vivo.
The findings, published in the journal Nature, suggest an alternative way in which cancer treatments might work in the future, by targeting the process of “cell repulsion” in order to stop cancer cells from spreading and causing secondary tumours.
Study leader Dr Roberto Mayor said: “When two migrating neural crest cells meet, they stop, collapse their protrusions and change direction. However, when a neural crest cell meets another cell type, it fails to behave as expected and instead invades the other tissue, in the same manner as metastatic cancer cells which migrate and go on to cause secondary tumours.”
Copyright Press Association 2008