Traffic patterns of brain cells: Clues to cancer spread?

2011 Annual Report

Traffic patterns of brain cells: Clues to cancer spread?

Dr. Jonathan Cooper

Dr. Jonathan Cooper

A study on the “traffic patterns” of cells and how they travel has shed new light on how cells migrate in the developing brain, which may also reveal how other types of cells, including cancerous ones, travel within the body.

This groundbreaking research by the Hutchinson Center’s Drs. Jonathan Cooper and Yves Jossin could lead to a better understanding of neurological development and how cancer spreads.

In the developing brain, the cerebral cortex—the command and control center—grows from the inside out, adding new neurons to the outermost layer. The researchers solved the mystery of how this migration is regulated, finding that a signaling protein called Reelin guides the new neurons into place by triggering changes in the membranes of the migrating neurons that allow the cells to respond to direction signals.

The scientists observed that a membrane protein called N-cadherin increases on the surface of the neurons when the neurons encounter Reelin, which helps the cells choose the appropriate direction for the next stage of migration. Elsewhere in the body, N-cadherin holds cells in place, so this unexpected role may help explain how normal and cancerous cells move around.