The Accelerating Excellence In Translational Science (AXIS)Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science

Tuesday, February 05, 2013
Researchers Discover One Way Cancer Cells May Communicate

New method of cell-cell communication through physical barriers is uncovered by investigators at Charles Drew University and UCLA

Los Angeles, CA (February 4, 2013)— Researchers at CDU and UCLA recently published a paper which sheds new light on possible methods of cell-cell communication.  The study, published in the January issue of The American Journal of Translational Research, is titled “Physically Disconnected Non-diffusible Cell-to-cell Communication between Neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y and DRG Primary Sensory Neurons.”

Traditionally, cell communication was thought to occur only through direct contact between cells, contact between cells via nerves, or contact from cell to cell via diffusible factors such as hormones.  Dr. Chaban, the study’s first author, notes “This project is a kind of breakthrough in our understanding of intercellular signal transduction.”  

For more than a decade, Dr. Chaban has worked with sensory neurons such as those utilized in this study, studying their response to biochemical or physical stimuli.  In this project, Dr. Chaban and colleagues exposed these neurons cultured in plates to a type of neuronal cancer cells, neuroblastoma cells. The researchers placed a physical barrier between the sensory neurons and the neuroblastoma cells, though the cells were in close proximity.  They did this to exclude the possibility of diffusible signaling between the cell types.  

The researchers specifically looked at variations in calcium signal processing.  They found that sensory neurons in close proximity to other normal neurons behaved normally, as if they had been surrounded by no cells at all.  On the other hand, sensory neurons in close proximity to cancer cells showed various alterations in their calcium signaling pathways, suggesting communication from the nearby cells.  The sensory neurons also showed altered calcium signaling when placed near dying cells.  Explains Dr. Chaban, “We observed a novel pathway in cell-to-cell communications.”

Cellular signaling is a fundamental biological property, and understanding it at a new level may ultimately lead to new treatments for cancer and other diseases.  As Dr. Chaban notes, “The study may open up new mechanisms for future therapeutic design.”  The researchers do not yet know how this communication does occur; follow-up studies will be needed.  The study has already received some interest in press in the popular media, see:  

Dr. Chaban, the paper’s first author, is an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at Charles Drew University, as well as an Associate Professor Medicine at UCLA.  He is also the Associate Program Director for the AXIS Clinical and Translational Research Center.  He serves as an Editor for Bioscience, for the International Journal of Research in Nursing, and as an Executive Editor of the Journal of Autacoids.  He performed the work with Dr. Keith Norris and with colleagues at CDU, Dr. Taehoon Cho and Dr. Christopher Reid.