The formation of tumor metastases could be linked to a particular protein

The formation of tumor metastases could be linked to a particular protein

Diseased cells that detach from the main tumor and colonize, spreading through the bloodstream to other tissues and organs. Simplifying, this is the genesis of metastases. And while there are (relatively) few doubts about how the process takes place, as to why - that is, what mechanism triggers it - so far not much has been known. In a new study published in Nature Genetics, researchers from Cambridge University have found that cancer cells are able to exploit a mechanism normally found in a healthy organism to spread - and which serves to regulate the presence of salt in the body. internal cells.

The problem of metastases

It is not clear when and how cancer begins to colonize different tissues and organs and generate metastases, we said. If this happens, however, turning back is impossible and curing the disease becomes extremely difficult. According to statistics, cancers spread throughout the body generally have a poorer prognosis. It has always been thought that metastases were generated by an abnormal and diseased process, linked solely to the disease. For this reason, so far the origin of the mechanism of metastasis has been sought among the genetic mutations induced by the tumor, to understand how these could induce the transport of cancer cells from one organ to another. The question is of fundamental importance, because preventing this from happening could significantly improve the prospects and the chances of recovery for a cancer patient.

The sodium channel and cell spread

Researchers have discovered that the Nalcn protein (which stands for sodium leak channel, non-selective) regulates the release of malignant epithelial cells and normal in the blood and their migration to distant sites where they can form, respectively, metastatic tumors or apparently normal tissues.

In truth, the novelties contained in the previous sentence are at least three. First of all, the fact that the mechanism involved, regulated by the Nacln protein, is part of the normal physiology of a healthy organism and does not depend on the presence or absence of a tumor. The main function of this protein, in fact, is to regulate the passage of sodium ions through specific channels present on the cell membrane, based on the concentration of intra and extracellular salt. However, the researchers noted that it is also responsible for releasing a cell into the bloodstream. And here is the second novelty: it can be any cell, which can then be picked up by another organ or tissue. In particular, the spread of cells from one organ to another, even in healthy organisms, would be favored when the Nacln protein is inhibited. In non-cancer mice, for example, pancreatic cells migrated to the kidneys, integrating with the epithelial cells of the new organ and assuming a new function.

How metastases arise

The third discovery concerns, in fact, metastases. In mice with cancer, inhibition of the protein that regulates the cellular sodium channel "carries" malignant cells around from one organ to another through the blood vessels. In other words, cancer exploits and corrupts mechanisms and processes that normally occur in healthy cells to bend them to its own ends. To spread in the body. According to statistics, some tumors would be more prone to develop sodium channel alterations: among the 10,022 human tumors contained in the Atlas of the Cancer Genome, in fact, mutations of the Nalcn protein were found to be much more frequent in gastric and colon cancers. rectum, lung, prostate and head and neck.

If this discovery were to be confirmed in future studies - the authors of the study write - the implications would first of all concern the concrete possibility of preventing the spread of gangr or , but the mechanism could also be exploited to repair damaged organs using healthy cells from other organs.

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