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Researchers from Cancer Research UK have found that the protein ties that typically keep cells together are severed in lung cancer cells, meaning they can break loose and spread.

Figure. Normal cells... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Normal cells (left) compared with when the cell ties are degraded (right)

In an open-access article published in Cell Reports (DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2014.12.012), the team, led by Angeliki Malliri, PhD, at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute at the University of Manchester, found that the ties, which are controlled by the TIAM1 protein, are "chopped up" when cell maintenance work goes wrong.


As explained in a news release, healthy cells routinely scrap old cell parts so they can be broken down and used again, but the process spins out of control in lung cancer cells, which get rid of too many TIAM1 ties.


Targeting this recycling process could stop lung cancer from spreading by keeping the cells stuck firmly together, Malliri said. "This important research shows for the first time how lung cancer cells sever ties with their neighbors and start to spread around the body, by hijacking the cells' recycling process and sending it into overdrive. Targeting this flaw could help stop lung cancer from spreading."


First author of the study is Lynsey Vaughan, PhD. In the article, the team concluded: "Because ubiquitin-coupled degradation of numerous junctional proteins now appears critical in epithelial dedifferentiation and acquisition of a motile and invasive phenotype, pharmacological interventions targeting the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway could impact on carcinoma cell invasion and metastasis."


The research was funded by Cancer Research UK, the UK Medical Research Council, and Worldwide Cancer Research.