Starving tumour cells of oxygen may trigger their spread to other bodily organs. Low oxygen activates a gene called CXCR4, which causes cancerous cells to metastasize, research in this week's Nature (Vol. 425, No. 6955, pp. 307-311, dated 18 Sep 03) shows. The results edge us closer to an understanding of the timing of tumour progression.
Wilhelm Krek and colleagues added a gene - known as pVHL - to renal carcinoma cells. The gene is normally present under conditions of low oxygen, but is absent in many tumours. They then looked for changes in the activity of thousands of other genes, and found that pVHL caused a dramatic reduction in the production of a receptor protein called CXCR4. This receptor allows migrating cancer cells to spread to specific organs and form metastases.
The data "enable us to envisage how tumour cells might be poised early on to spread to other parts of the body," says Rene Bernards in an accompanying News and Views article. "Incipient tumour cells that acquire a mutation in the VHL gene early on may be predestined to spread to secondary sites at a later stage," he says.
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Honggerberg), Zurich, Switzerland
Tel: +41 1 633 3447
The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 205 121 952
(C) Nature press release.
Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza
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