Cancer researchers dream of the day they can force tumor cells to morph back to the normal cells they once were. Now, researchers on Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus have discovered a way to potentially reprogram cancer cells back to normalcy. This potential blockbuster finding, published online on August 24, 2015 in Nature Cell Biology, represents “an unexpected new biology that provides the code, the software, for turning off cancer,” says the study’s senior investigator, Panos Anastasiadis, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Cancer Biology on the Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus. Th article is titled “Distinct E-Cadherin-Based Complexes Regulate Cell Behaviour through miRNA Processing or Src and p120-Catenin Activity.” That code was unraveled by the discovery that adhesion proteins — the glue that keeps cells together — interact with the microprocessor, a key player in the production of molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs). The miRNAs orchestrate whole cellular programs by simultaneously regulating expression of a group of genes. The investigators found that when normal cells come in contact with each other, a specific subset of miRNAs suppresses genes that promote cell growth. However, when adhesion is disrupted in cancer cells, these miRNAs are misregulated and cells grow out of control. The investigators showed, in laboratory experiments, that restoring the normal miRNA levels in cancer cells can reverse that aberrant cell growth. “The study brings together two so-far unrelated research fields — cell-to-cell adhesion and miRNA biology — to resolve a long-standing problem about the role of adhesion proteins in cell behavior that was baffling scientists,” says the study’s lead author Antonis Kourtidis, Ph.D., a research associate in Dr. Anastasiadis’ lab.
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