Good Communication Makes Good Neighbors

Elena Pasquale, Ph.D.

Elena Pasquale, Ph.D. Professor, Signal Transduction

Normally, cells are supposed to be good neighbors. When a cell starts to multiply uncontrollably, its neighboring cells tell it to stop. Unfortunately, cancer cells don’t respond to these signals and keep on expanding. It is believed that problems with cell surface receptors, which control communication between cells, are critical to cancer development and progression.

Eph cell surface receptors are important proteins that foster cell communication by binding to ephrin proteins on the surfaces of neighboring cells. Dr. Elena Pasquale’s laboratory was among the first to identify several Eph receptors and ephrin ligands, describe how they work and develop ways to control them.

New data show that cancer cells have more Eph receptors, but if surrounding cells contain ephrins, tumor growth is reduced. The ephrins may also make surrounding regions more impenetrable to cancer cells, making it more difficult for them to migrate away and form metastases.

EphB4 and ephrin

EphB4 and ephrin

However, the activities of Eph receptors in cancer are both complex and diverse. These receptors can be co-opted by other cancer cell surface receptors to enhance the tumor cell’s malignancy. Also, the interplay between several Eph receptors and ephrins promotes the growth of tumor blood vessels.

Understanding how Eph receptors and ephrins affect the properties of cancer cells and their microenvironment and devising strategies to control these molecules may help us find new weapons against cancer. Having learned so much about how Eph receptors function, the Pasquale laboratory is working to develop new molecules that target these receptors and, in collaboration with Dr. Maurizio Pellecchia’s laboratory, combine them with toxic substances to selectively destroy cancer cells.

Research - Cancer - Your Health: Good Communication Makes Good Neighbors
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