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Berkeley scientists find new way to get physical in the fight against cancer
Date:3/11/2010

Conventional biological wisdom holds that living cells interact with their environment through an elaborate network of chemical signals. As a result many therapies for the treatment of cancer and other diseases in which cell behavior goes awry focus on drugs that block or disrupt harmful chemical signals. Now, a new road for future therapies may have been opened with scientific evidence for a never seen before way in which cells can also sense and respond to physical forces.

A team of researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley has shown that the biochemical activity of a cellular protein system, which plays a key role in cancer metastasis, can be altered by the application of a direct physical force. This discovery sheds important new light on how the protein signaling complex known as EphA2/ephrin-A1 contributes to the initiation, growth and progression of cancerous cells, and also suggests how the activity of cancer cells can be affected by surrounding tissue.

"This first evidence that the EphA2/ephrin-A1 receptor-ligand complex, which was previously thought to be strictly a chemical sensor, can actually sense mechanical properties as well," says chemist Jay Groves, who led this research. "This coupling of mechanical and chemical signaling, which could never have been seen with classical biological methods, helps explain some of the biological mysteries concerning the onset and progression of cancer."

Groves holds a joint appointment with Berkeley Lab's Physical Biosciences Division and UC Berkeley's Chemistry Department. He is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. With members of his research group Khalid Salaita and Pradeep Nair, plus Rebecca Petit, he has co-authored a paper on this research that was published in the March 12, 2010 issue of the journal Science. The paper is titled, "Restriction of Receptor Movement Alters C
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Contact: Lynn Yarris
lcyarris@lbl.gov
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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