DURHAM, N.C. — Invasive cells deploy a trick to break through tissues and spread to other parts of the body, researchers report.
In a new study, 3-D time-lapse imaging of cellular “break-ins” in the transparent worm C. elegans reveals a fleeting, yet key structure in action. A single protrusion bulges out from the cell surface, wedges a hole through the protective layer that separates the cell from other tissues, and swells until the breach is wide enough for the entire cell to squeeze through.
These findings could point to new ways to prevent metastasis, the spread of cancer cells which typically makes the disease more deadly and difficult to treat. The work appeared Nov. 20 in the journal Developmental Cell.
Most cells in the body stay put. But from time to time, cells trespass into other tissues, said lead author David Sherwood, a biology professor at Duke University.
The ability of cells to break and enter is critical for many normal processes, such as when the placenta attaches to the uterus during early pregnancy, or when immune cells push their way through blood vessel walls to get to sites of injury or infection.
Cell invasion is hijacked during metastasis, when cancer cells leave their original tumor sites and spread to other parts of the body.