DEC 16, 2019 9:35 AM PST

When Migrating, Cancer Cells Choose the Path of Least Resistance

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Cancer becomes most deadly when it has metastasized - when cancerous cells move away from the site where cancer started growing and into the lymphatic system or bloodstream, which generates new tumors in other places. It has been estimated that 90 percent of cancer deaths are due to metastasis. Now researchers have learned more about how metastatic cancer cells choose their path.

Reporting in Nature Communications, the scientists report that metastatic cancer cells may move quickly, but they're lazy in selecting their route. They pick their path based on how much energy will be required; they opt for wider spaces that are easy to navigate over tight, confined spaces, which reduces the amount of energy it takes to get through.

The work suggests that metabolism and energy are crucial factors during metastatic movement. It may further raise research interest in cellular metabolism as factors in cancer, and make metabolomics a bigger target in the prevention of metastasis.

This study, led by Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Engineering Cynthia Reinhart-King of Vanderbilt University, is the first to quantify the energy that cancer cells use during metastasis, which can help predict the path of migration. It builds on previous work by the Reinhart-King lab that identified tools that cancer cells use as they migrate. These cells act like a car driver trying to save gas, by drafting behind other cells. The cells in the front use more energy as they carve a path and the ones in the back don't need as much energy. When the ones in front are worn out, cells in the rear can move ahead and take on a bigger workload.

A cancer cell migrating through a collagen track with fluorescent biomarkers showing cellular energy levels assigned a hue on the color spectrum from purple (low energy) to yellow (high energy). / Credit: Reinhart-King Lab / Vanderbilt University

"These cells are lazy. They want to move, but they will find the easiest way to do it," explained Reinhart-King. "By manipulating many different variables, we were able to track and build predictions of cellular preference for these paths of least resistance in the body based on how much energy a cell would need to move."

In this study, the cellular movement of cancer cells was tracked through a maze, and graduate student and lead study author Matthew Zanotelli tinkered with the properties of the paths and the mechanical characteristics of the cells. Although their focus was metastatic cancer cells, this research may have broader impact, he noted.

"This type of cellular movement happens in other instances, for example, during inflammation and around healing wounds," said Zanotelli. "We're excited to have this initial understanding of energy and cell migration and hope it will prove foundational for future, broader research."


Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Vanderbilt University, Nature Communications

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JUN 15, 2021
Immunology
Secrets of Immune Cell Movement Revealed
JUN 15, 2021
Secrets of Immune Cell Movement Revealed
Circulating immune cells are constantly on the lookout for the presence of any pathogenic intruders in the body. Once a ...
JUN 16, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
A Potential Way to Prevent Metastatic Cancer
JUN 16, 2021
A Potential Way to Prevent Metastatic Cancer
Metastatic cancer is the deadliest, and it can happen years after cancer has been treated to the point of remission. Met ...
JUL 01, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
A Better Understanding of VLCADD May Improve Treatment
JUL 01, 2021
A Better Understanding of VLCADD May Improve Treatment
With newborn screenings, clinicians can now identify newly born infants that carry genetic mutations that will lead to d ...
JUL 08, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Is It Possible to Prevent Leukemia in Down Syndrome Patients?
JUL 08, 2021
Is It Possible to Prevent Leukemia in Down Syndrome Patients?
Children with Down syndrome have a significantly higher likelihood myeloid leukemia occurring in the first five years of ...
JUL 19, 2021
Cardiology
Immune Proteins & Blood Clots May be Connected to Psychosis Development
JUL 19, 2021
Immune Proteins & Blood Clots May be Connected to Psychosis Development
Researchers are pointing out the associations between blood clotting disruptions and the front line immune system, and t ...
AUG 03, 2021
Neuroscience
Is it the zombie apocalypse? Nope, just some zombie genes
AUG 03, 2021
Is it the zombie apocalypse? Nope, just some zombie genes
Scientists trace the time duration of postmortem cell activity and gene expression in brain tissue to facilitate researc ...
Loading Comments...