'Chase and run' cell movement mechanism explains process of metastasis

Jun 16, 2013
Trajectories of neural crest cells (blue) chasing placode tissue (purple).

A mechanism that cells use to group together and move around the body – called 'chase and run' - has been described for the first time by scientists at UCL.

Published in Nature Cell Biology, the new study focuses on the process that occurs when cancer cells interact with healthy cells in order to migrate around the body during metastasis. Scientists know that cancer cells recruit healthy cells and use them to travel , but how this process takes place and how it could be controlled to design new therapies against cancer remains unknown.

Now, using called '' (which are similar to cancer cells in term of their invasive behaviour) and placode cells which are the precursors for (the equivalent to healthy cells) researchers at UCL have started to unravel this process.

They have found that when neural crest cells are put next to placode cells they undergo a dramatic transformation and start 'chasing' the placode cells. At the same time placode cells exhibite 'escape' behaviour when contacted by neural crest cells. The chasing behavior depends on the production of small chemical molecules by the placode cells that attracts neural crest cells toward them.

The authors of the study are confident that the process whereby cancer cells attached to healthy cells in order to migrate around the body is comparable. Healthy cells of the body try to escape from tumor cells, but are followed by because the healthy cells produce an attractant for the cancer cells.

Dr Roberto Mayor, UCL Department of Cell and Developmental Biology and lead author of the research, said, "We use the analogy of the donkey and the carrot to explain this behaviour: the donkey follows the carrot, but the carrot moves away when approached by the donkey. Similarly the neural crest cells follow the placode cells, but placode cells move away when touched by neural crest cells."

"The findings suggest an alternative way in which cancer treatments might work in the future if therapies can be targeted at the process of interaction between malignant and healthy cells to stop from spreading and causing secondary tumours."

"Most cancer deaths are not due to the formation of the primary tumor, instead people die from secondary tumors originating from the first malignant cells, which are able to travel and colonize vital organs of the body such as the lungs or the brain."

Explore further: How steroid hormones enable plants to grow

More information: 'Chase-and-run between adjacent cell populations promotes directional collective migration' is published in the journal Nature Cell Biology: DOI: 10.1038/ncb2772

Related Stories

Cells' grouping tactic points to new cancer treatments

Jul 19, 2010

The study, which used embryonic cells, points to a new way of treating cancer where therapy is targeted at the process of cancer cells grouping together. The aim is to stop cancer cells from spreading and ...

Shape-shifting cells help skin cancer spread

Jun 10, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Scientists have discovered genes that control shape changes in melanoma skin cancer cells, allowing them to wriggle free and spread around the body, according to new research published ...

Modulating the immune system to combat metastatic cancer

May 24, 2013

Cancer cells spread and grow by avoiding detection and destruction by the immune system. Stimulation of the immune system can help to eliminate cancer cells; however, there are many factors that cause the immune system to ...

Recommended for you

Researchers discover new strategy germs use to invade cells

20 hours ago

The hospital germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa wraps itself into the membrane of human cells: A team led by Dr. Thorsten Eierhoff and Junior Professor Dr. Winfried Römer from the Institute of Biology II, members of the Cluster ...

Progress in the fight against harmful fungi

20 hours ago

A group of researchers at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories has created one of the three world's largest gene libraries for the Candida glabrata yeast, which is harmful to humans. Molecular analysis of the Candida ...

How steroid hormones enable plants to grow

Aug 19, 2014

Plants can adapt extremely quickly to changes in their environment. Hormones, chemical messengers that are activated in direct response to light and temperature stimuli help them achieve this. Plant steroid ...

Surviving the attack of killer microbes

Aug 19, 2014

The ability to find food and avoid predation dictates whether most organisms live to spread their genes to the next generation or die trying. But for some species of microbe, a unique virus changes the rules ...

Histones and the mystery of cell proliferation

Aug 19, 2014

Before cells divide, they create so much genetic material that it must be wound onto spools before the two new cells can split apart. These spools are actually proteins called histones, and they must multiply ...

User comments : 0