Why are some cells more cancer prone?

Cells in the body wear down over time and die. In many organs, like the small intestine, adult stem cells play a vital role in maintaining function by replacing old cells with new ones. Learning about the nature of tissue stem cells can help scientists understand exactly how our organs are built, and why some organs generate cancer frequently, but others only rarely.

New work from Carnegie's Alexis Marianes and Allan Spradling used some of the most experimentally accessible tissue , the adult stem cells in the midsection of the fruit fly gut, with surprising results. Their findings are published by eLife.

Like the small intestine in mammals, the midgut of is where most digestion takes place. Scientists had noticed a few regions in both the midgut and were specialized for certain tasks, such as absorbing iron, but had little understanding of the extent of these regional differences or how they were maintained.

Marianes and Spradling were able to demonstrate that there are 10 different major subregions within the fruit fly midgut. They occur in a specific order and each is responsible for different digestive and nutrient-storage processes, as evidenced by the expression of many specific genes. Most importantly, the in each region are specialized as well, and only support the types of cells found within it. Thus, during development, achieving the right spatial sequence of stem cells is probably critical to causing intestines to be built and maintained in order to function optimally.

The researchers also showed that tumors arise preferentially in specific regions of the midgut, a phenomenon well known in oncology. They showed the tumor-prone regions were specialized for lipid absorption, and stem cell function in them differed in small ways from stem cell function in other regions.

This work will motivate the search for fine-grained specialization in both tissue organization and in stem cells within many mammalian tissues. These subtle differences may explain the surprising results that are sometimes obtained following the removal or transplantation of human tissue. This must be considered carefully in ongoing attempts to utilize stem cells therapeutically.

Finally, it may be possible to learn what makes some stem cells more susceptible to cancer than others, and develop strategies to counteract this tendency.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Stem cell clues uncovered

Jul 12, 2013

Proper tissue function and regeneration is supported by stem cells, which reside in so-called niches. New work from Carnegie's Yixian Zheng and Haiyang Chen identifies an important component for regulating stem cell niches, ...

Tracking nanodiamond-tagged stem cells

Aug 05, 2013

A method that is used to track the fate of a single stem cell within mouse lung tissue is reported in a study published online this week in Nature Nanotechnology. The method may offer insights into the factors that determ ...

Fruit fly midguts provide human abdomen acumen

Jul 04, 2013

(Phys.org) —Nicolas Buchon, associate professor of entomology, is giving the fruit fly research community a lot to digest: a detailed molecular and anatomical atlas of the fruit fly digestive tract. The ...

The developmental on-switch

Aug 19, 2013

German researchers have demonstrated for the first time why the molecular cocktail responsible for generating stem cells works. Sox2 and Oct4 are proteins whose effect on cells resembles that of an eraser: ...

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