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Cancer protein ‘steers’ tumour cells and could help them spread through the body

Bioassay (Jan Chlebik for the ICR 2011)

A bioassay (Jan Chlebik/the ICR)

Scientists have discovered a protein that helps steer cells to move in particular directions – which could help them to spread around the body.

In a new study published in the Journal of Cell Science, scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London showed that a protein called FAM65A helps orientate cancer cells by driving other proteins towards one end – creating a ‘front’ and a ‘back’.

The protein is part of a major cancer signalling pathway overseen by proteins called RHO, which are overactive in a wide range of cancers.


RHO proteins are important regulators of cell migration – which is a key biological process that helps to form new tissue and to repair damage, but can be hijacked by cancer cells to help their spread.

In the study, led by the late Professor Christopher Marshall and funded by Cancer Research UK, researchers found that FAM65A polarises cells by driving a region of the cell that sorts and distributes proteins called the Golgi apparatus to one end.

This changed the cells’ behaviour, creating a leading edge and priming them to move.

In further experiments, researchers proved the important role of FAM65A in orientating the Golgi apparatus by simulating wounding in a culture of cancer cells.

Delivering packages of proteins

Normally, cells respond to wounding by turning their Golgi apparatus – a web of membranes – towards the site of a wound, driving packages of proteins in that direction.

But cells without working copies of FAM65A were significantly impaired in their ability to turn their Golgi apparatus in the right direction.

Study lead author Dr Faraz Mardakheh, Postdoctoral Training Fellow in the Division of Cancer Biology at the ICR, said: “Our study shows that a protein called FAM65A, a member of the Rho signalling network, plays an important role in an early step towards cellular migration.

“We saw that FAM65A polarises cancer cells by inducing their Golgi to turn towards a specific direction – effectively steering cellular motion that way. Blocking its activity helped prevent this motion, so FAM65A signalling could be a good target for future treatments that stop cancer spreading.”

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