Breast cancer cell subpopulation cooperation can spur tumor growth

April 8, 2014
These red and green cells in a chimeric mammary tumor are genetically distinct and cooperate to enable tumor growth. Credit: Penn State College of Medicine

Subpopulations of breast cancer cells sometimes cooperate to aid tumor growth, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers, who believe that understanding the relationship between cancer subpopulations could lead to new targets for cancer treatment.

Cancers contain genetically different subpopulations of cells, called subclones. Researchers have long known that these mutant subclones aggressively compete with one another to become the dominant tumor cell population. However, in some cases it seems that no single subclone can achieve dominance on its own.

"In , there is remarkable genetic diversity within each cancer, and sometimes that diversity appears remarkably stable," said Ed Gunther, associate professor of medicine. "No single subclone seems to be capable of gaining the upper hand, leading us to wonder whether subclones might be working together in some instances. Cooperation between subclones could provide a stabilizing force that preserves tumor cell diversity."

The researchers studied mammary tumors in mice caused by the overproduction of a protein called Wnt1, which is secreted by and is needed to advance . They report their results in the current issue of Nature.

The frequently contained two distinct subclones – one produced Wnt1 while the other did not. The researchers observed a co-dependency of the two subpopulations. Instead of competing, the two relied on each other to expand both populations.

The subpopulation that failed to produce Wnt contributed to tumor growth with a mutation in a gene called HRas, which regulates cell division. The subpopulation that produced Wnt1 did not have this HRas mutation.

"One cell type signals to the other," Gunther said. "When one cell type produced Wnt1, which we know the tumor depends on, the other type sensed it."

When the researchers prevented the signaling between cells, the cancer growth stopped. However, the longer the messaging between the cells stops, the greater the chance that the cells will adapt.

"When we blocked the signaling, the cells got around it," Gunther said. "Either the cells evolved to find a way to communicate with each other again, or they evolved to not need the cooperation any longer."

Research could lead to effective ways to block communication between the cells to prevent the cooperation, and slow . In addition, understanding the genetic differences between the subpopulations could lead to novel treatment strategies aimed at eliminating tumor cell communities.

Explore further: Cancer vaccine could use immune system to fight tumors

Related Stories

Cancer vaccine could use immune system to fight tumors

February 27, 2014
Cincinnati Cancer Center (CCC) and UC Cancer Institute researchers have found that a vaccine, targeting tumors that produce a certain protein and receptor responsible for communication between cells and the body's immune ...

New study shows promise for preventing therapy resistance in tumor cells

January 9, 2014
A new study led by University of Kentucky researchers suggests that activating the tumor suppressor p53 in normal cells causes them to secrete Par-4, another potent tumor suppressor protein that induces cell death in cancer ...

Enhanced luminal breast tumor response to antiestrogen therapy

September 3, 2013
Breast cancer can be divided into 4 major subtypes using molecular and genetic information from the tumors. Each subtype is associated with different prognosis and should be taken into consideration when making treatment ...

Team discovers new mechanism allowing tumor cells to escape immune surve

March 18, 2014
The immune system plays a pivotal role in targeting cancer cells for destruction. However, tumor cells are smart and have developed ways to avoid immune detection. A collaborative team of researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center ...

Integrin cell adhesion receptors are risky cancer drug targets

February 11, 2014
A possible cancer treatment strategy might in fact lead to increased metastasis in some cases. This finding from a team of LACDR researchers led by Erik Danen made the cover of the February 11 edition of Science Signaling.

Researchers find that renal cancer cells thrive when put in the right environment and supported by a specific enzyme

April 6, 2014
Tumor cells are picky about where they live. In the wrong environment, they fail to reach their potential. But put those same cells on the right bit of real estate, and they grow like mad. Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer ...

Recommended for you

Study may explain failure of retinoic acid trials against breast cancer

July 25, 2017
Estrogen-positive breast cancers are often treated with anti-estrogen therapies. But about half of these cancers contain a subpopulation of cells marked by the protein cytokeratin 5 (CK5), which resists treatment—and breast ...

Physical activity could combat fatigue, cognitive decline in cancer survivors

July 25, 2017
A new study indicates that cancer patients and survivors have a ready weapon against fatigue and "chemo brain": a brisk walk.

Breaking the genetic resistance of lung cancer and melanoma

July 25, 2017
Researchers from Monash University and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC, New York) have discovered why some cancers – particularly lung cancer and melanoma – are able to quickly develop deadly resistance ...

New therapeutic approach for difficult-to-treat subtype of ovarian cancer identified

July 24, 2017
A potential new therapeutic strategy for a difficult-to-treat form of ovarian cancer has been discovered by Wistar scientists. The findings were published online in Nature Cell Biology.

Immune cells the missing ingredient in new bladder cancer treatment

July 24, 2017
New research offers a possible explanation for why a new type of cancer treatment hasn't been working as expected against bladder cancer.

Anti-cancer chemotherapeutic agent inhibits glioblastoma growth and radiation resistance

July 24, 2017
Glioblastoma is a primary brain tumor with dismal survival rates, even after treatment with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. A small subpopulation of tumor cells—glioma stem cells—is responsible for glioblastoma's ...

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.