Fighting melanoma's attraction to the brain

September 19, 2012, Tel Aviv University
Fighting melanoma's attraction to the brain

(Medical Xpress)—The process of metastasis, by which cancer cells travel from a tumor site and proliferate at other sites in the body, is a serious threat to cancer patients. According to the National Cancer Institute, most recurrences of cancer are metastases rather than "new" cancers.

Virtually all can spread to other parts of the body, including the brain. Once metastatic melanoma cells are entrenched in the brain, patients typically have only a few months to live.

Now Prof. Isaac Witz and his team at Tel Aviv University's Department of Cell Research and Immunology are delving deeper into what attracts metastatic melanoma cells to the brain, and how they survive and prosper in this environment. Their experiments have discovered that melanoma cells produce receptors for two chemokines—a family of small proteins secreted by cells—present in the . These receptors may act as a homing device, drawing the to the brain.

"These interactions between the chemokines in the brain and the melanoma could be potential targets for new therapies," Prof. Witz says. "With medications that suppress these molecules, you could hope to interfere with this specific migration." Published in the , this research is supported by the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation.

A dangerous attraction

Although metastasis is a well-understood process, researchers are still trying to uncover the underlying mechanisms of why begin to migrate in the first place. It is also crucial to understand what allows them to sustain themselves, divide, and propagate once they have arrived at their new location.

To better understand metastacized melanoma cells in the brain, the researchers cultured brain tissue in the lab, then analyzed all of the materials that were expressed by the cells. They identified certain chemokine receptors in brain-metastasizing melanoma cells and corresponding chemokines in the brain tissue which could ultimately be responsible for the cancer cells' being "attracted" to the brain. If a certain chemokine is released from the brain, and the melanoma cells have the appropriate receptors, a chemical attraction will take place where the melanoma cells would be drawn to wherever the chemokine is.

Duplicating nature

The researchers have also developed a method to compare metastatic and non-metastatic cells with identical genetic backgrounds. Though they are derived from the same cancer, some of these cells become metastatic, while others do not. "This is a good way for us to concentrate on the genes that are specific to metastatic cells. Because we have these two types of cellular variants, where only one goes to the brain and metastasizes, it's an important tool" for future research, explains Prof. Witz.

The researchers have found that mice that are inoculated with non-metastatic cells do end up with in the brain, but they are dormant and do not generate overt metastasis. The key is to discover why these originally identical cells differ—why the non-metastatic cells don't develop in the same way.

Understanding the process will help scientists to "duplicate what nature does, and prevent these cells from becoming metastatic," says Prof. Witz. "If there already is metastasis, it is too late—so what we want to do is to prevent development by understanding the mechanism that keeps the non-metastatic cells dormant."

Explore further: Researchers identify key role of microRNAs in melanoma metastasis

Related Stories

Researchers identify key role of microRNAs in melanoma metastasis

July 11, 2011
Researchers at the NYU Cancer Institute, an NCI-designated cancer center at NYU Langone Medical Center, identified for the first time the key role specific microRNAs (miRNAs) play in melanoma metastasis to simultaneously ...

Metastatic 'switch' could lead to cancer therapies

September 11, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—What kills cancer patients often isn't the primary tumor; it's when the tumor metastasizes—or spreads the cancer to other areas of the body.

How tumor cells create their own pathways

July 10, 2012
Metastasis occurs when tumor cells "migrate" to other organs through the bloodstream. Scientists have now discovered the trick tumor cells use to invade tissue from the blood vessels: They produce signaling proteins to make ...

New drug shrinks brain tumours in melanoma patients

May 21, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Australian researchers have reported promising results with a new drug that shrinks brain tumours in melanoma patients. Their findings are published in The Lancet medical journal today.

Recommended for you

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

January 18, 2018
Cancer metastasis, the migration of cells from a primary tumor to form distant tumors in the body, can be triggered by a chronic leakage of DNA within tumor cells, according to a team led by Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial ...

Modular gene enhancer promotes leukemia and regulates effectiveness of chemotherapy

January 18, 2018
Every day, billions of new blood cells are generated in the bone marrow. The gene Myc is known to play an important role in this process, and is also known to play a role in cancer. Scientists from the German Cancer Research ...

These foods may up your odds for colon cancer

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—Chowing down on red meat, white bread and sugar-laden drinks might increase your long-term risk of colon cancer, a new study suggests.

The pill lowers ovarian cancer risk, even for smokers

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—It's known that use of the birth control pill is tied to lower odds for ovarian cancer, but new research shows the benefit extends to smokers or women who are obese.

Researchers develop swallowable test to detect pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus

January 17, 2018
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have developed a simple, swallowable test for early detection of Barrett's esophagus that offers promise ...

Scientists zoom in to watch DNA code being read

January 17, 2018
Scientists have unveiled incredible images of how the DNA code is read and interpreted—revealing new detail about one of the fundamental processes of life.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.