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Mount Sinai Researchers Identify Mechanisms and Potential Biomarkers of Tumor Cell Dormancy
Date:10/27/2013

New York, NY (PRWEB) October 27, 2013

Oncologists have long puzzled over the fact that after cancer treatment, single cancer cells that are dispersed throughout the body – so-called disseminated tumor cells – are quick to grow and form secondary tumors called metastases in certain organs, while in other organs they metastasize more slowly, sometimes decades later. Such is the case with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cells, which remain dormant when lodged in bone marrow but rapidly form tumors when they make their way into the lungs.

A study published online October 27 by Nature Cell Biology by Bragado et al. reveals that bone marrow contains high levels of TGFß2, which activates the tumor suppressor gene p38 in tumor cells and triggers a cascade of events that renders tumor cells dormant and keeps HNSCC growth in check. In the lungs, where TGFß2 is in short supply, these cells rapidly form tumors.

The research team, led by Julio A. Aguirre-Ghiso, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Hematology and Medical Oncology, and Otolaryngology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is the first to identify the role of TGFß2 in determining whether HNSCC cells will remain harmlessly dormant or behave aggressively in a given location. The study confirms a century-old theory called the “seed and soil” theory of metastasis, which suggests that a tumor cell – the seed – either sleeps or thrives within the unique environment of each organ – the soil.

“Our study provides critical evidence to explain why tumor cells gain a firm foothold in certain organs but not in others, where they can remain inactive for long periods of time,” explained Dr. Aguirre-Ghiso.

Approximately 80 percent of the animal models the researchers studied contained disseminated HNSCC cells in the lungs, while less than 30 percent contained tumor cells in the bone marrow. After removing the primary tumors, the numb
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