Cancer Cell Survival Mechanism Reveals New Treatment Target

Protein that helps cancer cells survive during metastasis may lead to novel treatments.

A previously unknown survival mechanism in cancer cells that allows them to could help in future developments for preventative novel treatments.

Cancer cells have the ability to break away from their primary tumor site and travel throughout the body, but how the cancers cells are able to survive has been an ongoing mystery. In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers used cell cultures, zebrafish, and mice to examine changes that occur when the cancer cells break away.

The results of the study showed that proteins called integrins could be key in the cancer cell survival. Integrins are located on the cell surface, attaching to and interacting with the cell’s surroundings. Outside-in and inside-out signaling from integrins is known to help cancer cells attach to their surroundings.

However, findings from the study suggest that while cancer cells are floating through the body, the integrins switch from their normal role and take on a new form of communication, referred to as inside-in signaling, whereby integrins signal within the cell, which has never been seen before.

Researchers revealed that the integrin called beta-1 (β1) pairs up with the protein c-Met to move inside the cell together. Next, the 2 proteins travel to an unexpected location in the cell normally used to downgrade and recycle cellular material.

The 2 proteins use the location for a new role of cell communication, and send a message to the rest of the cell to resist against death while floating during metastasis.

Researchers used breast and lung cells to examine the process, and found that metastases were less likely to form when both β1 and c-Met were blocked from going inside the cell together, as well as from moving to the special location in the cell.

Authors noted that a potential new approach to treating cancer involves preventing integrin from entering the cell right from the beginning.

“Metastasis is currently incurable and remains one of the key targets of cancer research,” said lead researcher Stéphanie Kermorgant. “Our research advances the knowledge of how two key molecules communicate and work together to help cancer cells survive during metastasis. We're hoping that this might lead to the discovery of new drugs to block the spread of cancer within the body.”