In a study that holds major implications for breast cancer research as well as basic cell biology, scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have discovered a rotational motion that plays a critical role in the ability of breast cells to form the spherical structures in the mammary gland known as acini. This rotation, which the researchers call “CAMo,” for coherent angular motion, is necessary for the cells to form spheres. Without CAMo, the cells do not form spheres, which can lead to random motion, loss of structure, and malignancy. “What is most exciting to me about this stunning discovery is that it may finally give us a handle by which to discover the physical laws of cellular motion as they apply to biology,” says Dr. Mina Bissell, a leading authority on breast cancer and Distinguished Scientist with Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division. Dr. Bissell is a corresponding author of a paper describing this work in PNAS, along with Dr. Kandice Tanner, a post-doctoral physicist in Dr. Bissell’s research group. The PNAS paper was published online on January 25, 2012. Healthy human epithelial cells in breast and other glandular tissue form either sphere-shaped acini or tube-shaped ducts. The cell and tissue polarity (function-enabling spatial orientations of cellular and tissue structures) that comes with the formation of acini is essential for the health and well-being of the breast. Loss of this polarity as a result of cells not forming spheres is one of the earliest signs of malignancy. However, despite all that is known about cell morphogenesis, the fundamental question as to how epithelial cells are able to assemble into spheres that are similar in size and shape to organs in vivo has until now been a mystery.
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