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Embryonic pathway delivers stem cell traits
Date:5/15/2008

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (May 15, 2008) Studies of how cancer cells spread have led to a surprising discovery about the creation of cells with adult stem cell characteristics, offering potentially major implications for regenerative medicine and for cancer treatment.

Some cancer cells acquire the ability to migrate through the body by re-activating biological programs that have lain dormant since the embryo stage, as the lab of Whitehead Member Robert Weinberg has helped to demonstrate in recent years. Now scientists in the Weinberg lab have shown that both normal and cancer cells that are induced to follow one of these pathways may gain properties of adult stem cells, including the ability to self-renew.

In a paper published online by Cell on May 15, former postdoctoral researcher Sendurai Mani and his colleagues demonstrated in mice and in human cells that cells that have undergone an epithelial-to-mesenchymal (EMT) transition acquire several important characteristics of stem cells. Conversely, the researchers also showed that naturally existing normal stem cells as well as tumor-seeding cancer stem cells show characteristics of the post-EMT cells, including the acquisition of mesenchymal cell traits, which are usually associated with connective tissue cells.

Epithelial cells, which make up most of the human body, bind together in sheet-like structures. In embryonic development, the EMT process breaks up cell-cell adhesion in the epithelial layer, and converts epithelial cells into more loosely associated mesenchymal cells. In the context of cancer development, some cancer cells within a primary cancer may undergo an EMT, migrate through the body to their end destination, and there resume their epithelial form through a reverse process (the mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition).

Mani and his colleagues have identified FOXC2, one of the key genes involved in invasion and metastasis. In addition, FOXC2 appears to program the meta
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Contact: Cristin Carr
carr@wi.mit.edu
617-324-0460
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Source:Eurekalert

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