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Changes in cell shape may lead to metastasis, not the other way around

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Posted June 25, 2013
Cells usually exist as a complex population with limited number of shapes. Credit: Zheng Yin, Stephen T.C. Wong, Chris Bakal et al;

Cells usually exist as a complex population with limited number of shapes. Credit: Zheng Yin, Stephen T.C. Wong, Chris Bakal et al;

A crucial step toward skin cancer may be changes in the genes that control cell shape, report a team of scientists from The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Harvard Medical School in an upcoming issue of Nature Cell Biology.

Using automated high content screening and sophisticated computational modeling, the researchers’ screening and analysis of tens of millions of genetically manipulated cells helped them identify more than a dozen genes that influence cell shape. Their work could lead to a better understanding of how cells become metastatic and, eventually, pinpoint new gene therapy targets for cancer treatment.

“We found that by altering the way the cells are grown to better mimic conditions in a living organism, gene expression could have a profound impact on cell shape,” said Zheng Yin, the paper’s lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Systems Medicine and Bioengineering of The Methodist Hospital Research Institute (TMHRI). “This matters because many cancer biologists believe metastasis depends in part on the ability of cells to take on different shapes to escape their confines and spread to healthy tissue. We developed a method of identifying and analyzing the shapes of fruit fly cells, then validated and expanded the discoveries in mammal cancer cells..”

The scientists began their study in fruit fly immune cells called hemocytes. Under normal conditions, each hemocyte was found to take on just one of five distinct shapes about 98 percent of the time. In contrast to conventional wisdom, other shapes and “intermediate” forms were rare, suggesting genes that control cell shapebehave more like light switches than teakettles coming to a slow boil. Genetic manipulation of these cells in a lab setting supported that view as well.

Read more at: Phys.org

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