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'Velcro protein' found to play surprising role in cell migration
Date:3/13/2014

Studying epithelial cells, the cell type that most commonly turns cancerous, Johns Hopkins researchers have identified a protein that causes cells to release from their neighbors and migrate away from healthy mammary, or breast, tissue in mice. They also found that deletion of a cellular "Velcro protein" does not cause the single-celled migration expected. Their results, they say, help clarify the molecular changes required for cancer cells to metastasize.

Because epithelial cells give rise to 85 percent of all cancers, the work may have implications outside of breast cancer. A summary of the results was published online on March 3 in The Journal of Cell Biology.

Epithelial cells line the inside and outside of organs throughout the body. The team focused their work on mammary epithelial cells, which form the ducts that carry milk within the breast. "Tumor cells have to break their connections to other epithelial cells in order to leave the breast and build metastases in other parts of the body," explains Andrew Ewald, Ph.D., assistant professor of cell biology and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

For their study, Ewald's team removed small pieces of mammary tissue from normal mice and grew them in gels that mimic their natural environment. By using colored proteins to mark different types of cells, they were able to use microscopes to watch how cell behavior varied with the genetics of the cells.

The first protein they studied was E-cadherin, which is found on the surface of most epithelial cells and is used to connect epithelial cells to each other. E-cadherin is like the Velcro that holds epithelial cells together, and its absence is often associated with human breast cancers, says Ewald.

In one experiment, the team deleted the protein from normal mouse mammary cells and watched what happened. Expecting the cells to completely disconnect and move out on their own into the sur
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Contact: Catherine Kolf
ckolf@jhmi.edu
443-287-2251
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Source:Eurekalert  

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