How Do Cells Repel Each Other?

December 17, 2008
Julia Ernst, MS

Scientists in London have discovered the mechanism by which cells normally repel each other, a process that is often skipped in cancer cells.

Scientists in London have discovered the mechanism by which cells normally repel each other, a process that is often skipped in cancer cells, a new study has found.

Called contact inhibition, the process that causes cells to change their directions was discovered 50 years ago in a University College of London (UCL) experiment, where the new findings occurred. This is another element of the way a cell's life generally progresses that is different in cancerous cells than in healthy cells.

This abnormal behavior in cells is thought to be part of what allows cancerous cells to continue throughout the body, invading and conquering healthy cells and spreading the disease.

Dr. Roberto Mayor, of UCL Cell and Developmental Biology, explained the discovery in a press release on the sponsoring company's website.

"When two migrating neural crest cells meet, they stop, collapse their protrusions and change direction," Mayor said. "However, when a neural crest cells meets another cell type, it fails to behave as expected and instead invades the other tissues, in the same manner as metastatic cancer cells which migrate and go on to cause secondary tumors."

The ability to actually see and understand how this process works may now allow scientists to stop the spread of harmful cells and, therefore, the growth of secondary tumors.

"Inhibition of a type of cell signaling — non-canonical Wnt signaling — is behind this behavior, canceling the normal repulsion you would expect between cells," Mayor explained. "Our discovery offers possible new targets for the future treatment of tumor metastasis — the spreading of cancer cells, one of the most deadly aspects of cancer."

For more information, visit:

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081212222722.htm

www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nature07441.html