In our not-so-distant evolutionary past, stress often meant imminent danger, and the risk of blood loss, so part of our body's stress response is to stock-pile blood-clotting factors. Scientists in the Molecular Medicine Partnership Unit (MMPU), a collaboration between the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, and the University of Heidelberg Medical Centre, have discovered how stressed cells boost the production of the key blood-clotting factor, thrombin. Their work, published today in Molecular Cell, shows how cancer cells may be taking advantage of this process, and opens new possibilities for fighting back, not only against cancer but also against septicaemia, where increased blood clotting is still one of the leading causes of death.
Blood clots tend to form more often in the veins of people with cancer, a syndrome first described almost 150 years ago by French physician Armand Trousseau. In recent years, doctors have also come to realise that people with activated blood coagulation are more likely to develop cancer. Accordingly, recent studies have shown that anti-coagulants may help treat and prevent cancer, but exactly how blood-clotting and cancer progression are linked was unclear until now.
"For the 1st time, we have something in hand that might explain this enigmatic relationship between enhanced pro-coagulatory activities and the outcome of cancer," says Sven Danckwardt, who carried out the research within the MMPU.
The amount of thrombin our cells produce is controlled by two sets of proteins: proteins that slow thrombin production, and proteins that speed it up. Both types of protein act by binding to the cellular machinery that synthesises thrombin, and, under normal conditions, the production-slowing proteins keep thrombin levels low. But Danckwardt and colleagues discovered that, when our cells come under stress from inflammation, another protein, called p38 MAPK, reacts by adding
|Contact: Sonia Furtado|
European Molecular Biology Laboratory