The ties that keep normal cells together (left photo) break down in lung cancer (right photo) because a cell maintenance process goes into overdrive.
Image credit: Vaughan et al., Cell Reports
Researchers from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, at the University of Manchester in the UK, report their findings in the journal Cell Reports.
The ties that keep the cells lashed together are controlled by a protein called TIAM1.
When cells are working normally, their routine maintenance processes detect and remove faulty and worn out cell parts so they can be broken down and recycled.
But when the maintenance process goes wrong, it goes too far and chops up too many of the TIAM1 ties.
Lead researcher Dr. Angeliki Malliri explains the significance of what they found when they looked at the cells under a microscope:
"This important research shows for the first time how lung cancer cells sever ties with their neighbours and start to spread around the body, by hijacking the cells' recycling process and sending it into overdrive. Targeting this flaw could help stop lung cancer from spreading."
HUWE1 protein stimulates lung cancer cell invasion by changing stability of TIAM1 protein
In their study, Dr. Malliri and colleagues found the reason too many TIAM1 ties are scrapped is because of an over-abundance of a protein called HUWE1, which controls the disposal of TIAM1.
HUWE1 has already been linked to tumor formation, but this is the first study to suggest it may also have a role in cell "junction disassembly, migration and invasion."
Working with cancer cells, the researchers showed that reducing HUWE1, or changing the site on the TIAM1 protein that it binds to, "prevents TIAM1 degradation, antagonizing scattering and invasion."
They also showed that depleting TIAM1 in HUWE1-depleted cells restores migration and invasion.
The team concludes that their results show that "HUWE1 stimulates human lung cancer cell invasion through regulating TIAM1 stability."
Studies like this will help find treatments that stop cancer spread
Nell Barrie, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, says:
"Early-stage research like this is essential to find treatments which could one day block cancer spread - which would be a game changer."
Like other cancers, the earlier that lung cancer can be diagnosed, the higher the chances of treatment being successful and the lower the chance that the cancer has spread. Cancers that have spread - or metastases - are the major cause of death from cancer.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths. In 2012, lung cancer accounted for 1.59 million of 8.2 million cancer deaths worldwide.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there were over 224,200 cases of lung cancer diagnosed in the US in 2014 and over 159,200 deaths. In the UK, where the research was done, there are over 43,000 new cases every year and over 35,000 deaths.
The most important thing people can do to lower their risk of lung cancer is to quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
In October 2014, Medical News Today learned that lung cancer can lie dormant for over 20 years before suddenly growing rapidly and aggressively. In the journal Science, Cancer Research UK scientists reported how after the initial genetic fault that causes lung cancer occurs, the disease can remain dormant but become aggressively active much later when triggered by additional new genetic mistakes.