09:45pm Saturday 23 September 2017

A study on cell migration provides insights into the movement of cancer cells

The migration of groups of cells in order to form tissues is common during the development of an organism. Discovering how these multiple movements are achieved is not only crucial to understand the basic principles of development but provides new information and insights for further research into processes associated with the spread of cancer.

Jordi Casanova, head of the “Morphogenesis in Drosophila lab at IRB Barcelona and CSIC research professor, and Gaëlle Lebreton, postdoctoral fellow in the same group, have published a study performed using Drosophila melanogaster in the Journal of Cell Science. This work reveals that in a multiple movement, a single cell can act as the leader and can drag the rest with it. The scientists have studied the tracheal development of Drosophila in vivo and describe the morphological characteristics of the leading cell and provide molecular details about how it drives the movement.

“Cancer researchers are keen to know how cells are organized to achieve migration and to form new capillaries to feed an expanding cancerous tumor,” explains Gaëlle Lebreton, first author of the article. “Our study gives new data about how angiogenesis might arise,” comments the French scientist at IRB Barcelona. Angiogenesis or the formation of new blood vessels is a critical process in the context of cancer because it is one of the steps that mark the transformation of a benign tumour into a malignant one. The formation of new blood vessels involves the synchronized movements of groups of cells. In this regard, understanding how these groups work will open up new research lines on angiogenesis.

Over seven hours, the scientists tracked a group of seven cells that form one of the tracheal branches of the fly Drosophila melanogaster in its first hours of development. The leading cell is the only one that has receptors for the growth factor FGF. The FGF signal stimulates a cascade of reactions in this cell in order to generate sufficient energy and to turn it into the promoter of motility.

“This is a novel piece of work because we monitored the entire process in vivo and because it is the first time we have seen, in an experimental context, that a single cell can lead this multiple migration,” says Casanova.

It is important to note that the development of trachea in the Drosophila fly is similar to that of bronchia in humans. Consequently, this development is also of biomedical interest in order to unravel the basic processes involved in the formation of new tissue.

Reference article:

Specification of leading and trailing cell features during collective migration in the Drosophila trachea
Lebreton G, Casanova J.
J Cell Sci. 2013 Nov 8. [Epub ahead of print]

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