Mechanisms Behind Lung Cancer Metastasis Discovered

Inhibiting communication between proteins and the Golgi apparatus could possibly prevent lung cancer metastasis.

Researchers recently discovered that a certain component of cancer cells could cause lung cancer metastasis, which could potentially be harnessed to create novel drugs to prevent cancer from spreading.

Metastasis occurs when cancer cells spread to nearby and distant healthy tissues, organs, and lymph nodes. Metastatic cancer cells typically have the characteristics of the primary tumor, not the secondary location.

A study published by the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that a change in communication inside of the Golgi apparatus creates a cell that is less stable and moves freely, compared with a fixed shape cell attached to an organ.

"If we think of the cancer cell like a tent structure; it has fixed sides to hold its shape and is firmly anchored to the ground in order to secure its contents. It cannot conceivably be moved until its architecture is altered somehow,” said researcher Daniel Ungar, PhD, MSc. “In order to move the tent, we have to rearrange its contents and collapse its sides in order to lift it out of its anchored position and carry it away. A similar process happens with cancer when it metastasizes -- its outer edges are altered resulting in it becoming un-anchored."

In the study, researchers referred to the Golgi apparatus as the “post office” of the cell, since it regulates vesicle transport. The Golgi apparatus packages proteins into vesicles that are transported along microtubules to specific locations.

The researchers found that the protein PARQR11, which is located inside the Golgi apparatus, receives a signal from the Zeb1 protein. This interaction causes the contents (vesicles) of the Golgi apparatus to be transported.

The vesicles change their delivery path and can alter the perimeter of the cancer cells, allowing them to detach from a fixed position in the lung and metastasize, according to the study. This process is critical for cancer spread.

These findings could potentially be used to create novel drugs that target communication within the cell that elicits this change in the structure of the cell perimeter.

By preventing these changes, it will likely prevent lung cancer from metastasizing and affecting other organs. Metastasis is common among patients with certain cancers, and can affect patients with a variety of cancer types.

However, there are few effective treatments against cancers once they metastasize, and there is always a chance for relapse. By preventing metastasis from occurring, patients will likely have to undergo fewer treatments, which can lead to better outcomes and less financial burden for both patients and the healthcare industry.

“Now that we recognize this system, there is the potential to develop a drug that interferes with this communication and prevents the Golgi apparatus from facilitating the movement of the membrane sacks,” Dr Ungar concluded. “The next stage of this study will be to look at how we target this process without interrupting normal cellular functions of non-cancerous cells.”