Scientists at Johns Hopkins report using a laser beam to activate a protein that makes a cluster of fruit fly cells act like a school of fish turning in social unison, following the lead of the one stimulated with light.
The study of this unexpected cell movement, reported May 16 in Nature Cell Biology, holds potential importance for understanding embryonic development, wound healing and tumor metastasis the process by which tumor cells acquire the ability to invade surrounding tissues and migrate long distances to colonize lymph nodes, bones and other distant organs.
The research dramatically demonstrates, the researchers say, the collective direction-sensing behavior of live cells in intact tissue, and a means of controlling protein behavior in a living organism by shining a focused beam of light precisely on the parts of cells where they want the protein to be active.
"Our little system in the fruit fly is an elegant example of cells behaving socially in their natural environment surrounded by other cells," says Denise Montell, Ph.D., a professor of biological chemistry and director of the Center for Cell Dynamics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "You can't capture this behavior if you look at individual cells in a culture dish."
The "social" migrating behavior among a cluster of cells in the fly ovary surprised the research team, which was using a new laser light tool to manipulate protein activity.
"People tend to think of cancer as single cells breaking off from the tumor and migrating away," Montell says, but it's likely that this collective form of movement is important, at one phase or another, in the spread of tumors."
A better understanding of how and why cells move can facilitate the development of new treatments not only for cancer but other disorders characterized by aberrant cell behavior.
Developed in the laboratory of Klaus Hahn, Ph.D., Thurman
|Contact: Maryalice Yakutchik|
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions