New research published in the journal Cancer Cell investigates the role of circular RNAs in the spread of melanoma. Melanoma is a particularly aggressive cancer, with metastasis growing from primary tumors of only a few millimeters. For this reason, the research team behind the new study decided to use melanoma to consider how and why metastatic spread occurs. Understanding this is crucial because metastasis is the cause of 90% of deaths related to cancer.
The functions of circular RNAs (circRNAs) have not been fully understood, so researcher Eva Hernando, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Pathology at New York University (NYU) Langone Health, decided to find out how circRNA can drive or stop metastasis. Along with her colleagues, she conducted experiments in mouse models as well as in cell cultures from human melanoma tissues to determine the role of circRNAs in metastasis.
The team found that a circRNA called CDR1as plays a significant role in metastasis. As Medical News Today reports, “When epigenetically silenced, this molecule promotes the spread of cancer, and when activated, it inhibits cancer's aggressive spread.”
"Our study provides new insights into the aggressive behavior of melanoma, and [it] is the first to expose a circRNA as a suppressor of metastasis," commented Hernando.
The suppressor mechanism works because an activated CDR1 connects with the RNA-binding protein IGF2BP3 and stops it from binding to pro-metastatic proteins. Meanwhile, a shut-off CDR1as allows IGF2BP3 to bind as it wants to thus promote metastasis.
This finding has potential implications for future therapies, explains first study author Douglas Hanniford, Ph.D., an instructor in the Department of Pathology at NYU Langone Health. "We found CDR1as restrains a known pro-cancer protein called IGF2BP3, revealing a new function of CDR1as that may have therapeutic implications."