Why cancer cells change their appearance?

Like snakes, tumour cells shed their skin. Cancer is not a static disease but during its development the disease accumulates changes to evade natural defences adapting to new environmental circumstances, protecting against chemotherapy and radiotherapy and invading neighbouring organs, eventually causing metastasis.

Until now little was known about the mechanisms involved in these changing processes in a tumour. There is a particularly intriguing way in which a tumour that initially presents a solid state, attached to (epithelial), afterwards becomes a semiliquid mass, detached from tissues and more flexible (mesenchymal).

The team led by Manel Esteller, director of the Cancer Epigenetics and Biology Program at the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL), professor of Genetics at the University of Barcelona and ICREA researcher, has identified a mechanism that explains this change. Tumours "shed their skin" because some molecular switches called microRNAs -responsible for maintaining epithelial appearance of cells- turn off. The finding has been published this week in the online version of the international scientific , Nature group.

"We have discovered that some microRNAs, a group called microRNA-200S, undergoes a chemical inactivation and inhibit their expression. When these cellular appearance drivers are not present, change, stretch, stop their inhibition and thus the tumour progresses", explains Dr. Esteller, adding that "the results from research show that this is a very dynamic process."

Change involves from the appearance of the tumour to the onset of , but if we change the environmental circumstances that influence these cells, the process reverses. Dr Esteller compares the process "with a small planet in but in an expedited manner."

The study was conducted mainly in breast and colon tumours. Besides serving to better understand the disease, the results are important because they predict that external intervention is possible in the process. In this sense, drug treatments can reverse the process and move from a highly evolved tumour form to a more primitive form, which would be associated with a slower progression of the disease.

More information: V Davalos, C Moutinho, A Villanueva, R Boque, P Silva, F Carneiro, and M Esteller. Dynamic epigenetic regulation of the micro RNA-200 family mediates epithelial and mesenchymal transitions in human tumorigenesis. 2011 Aug 29. doi:10.1038/onc.2011.383 [Epub ahead of print]

Provided by IDIBELL-Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Why metastasic cells migrate

Mar 29, 2010

Migration ability of metastatic cells is not due to an altered mechanism of tumor cells but to a natural capacity of healthy cells. The results could help to identify potential strategies for metastasis inhibition.

Recommended for you

Discovery could lead to new cancer treatment

Aug 29, 2014

A team of scientists from the University of Colorado School of Medicine has reported the breakthrough discovery of a process to expand production of stem cells used to treat cancer patients. These findings could have implications ...

Is the HPV vaccine necessary?

Aug 29, 2014

As the school year starts in full swing many parents wonder if their child should receive the HPV vaccine, which is recommended for girls ages 11-26 and boys 11-21. There are a lot of questions and controversy around this ...

User comments