Notre Dame researchers offer new insights on cancer cell signaling

July 19, 2013

Two studies by University of Notre Dame researchers shed light on a biological process which is activated across a vast range of malignancies. In the studies, one published recently in Molecular and Cellular Biology and a second earlier this year in Science Signaling, they report on the importance of the protein ARF6 in Wnt signaling.

Wnt proteins are a large family of proteins that activate signaling pathways (a set of biological reactions in a cell) to control several vital steps in embryonic development. In adults, Wnt-mediated functions are frequently altered in many types of cancers and, specifically, within cell subpopulations that possess stem cell-like properties. The best documented role of Wnt is its triggering of the canonical (idealized or generalized) signaling pathway that leads to the stabilization of a protein called beta-catenin. This in turn leads to activation of various target genes, which results in changes in a wide spectrum of cell behaviors.

“We have had a longstanding interest in understanding the role of ARF6 in cell behavior,” lead researcher Crislyn D'Souza-Schorey, PhD, says. “ARF6 is an interesting molecule at the nexus of several important cell-signaling pathways. Our interest in this line of investigation has only been heightened by emerging reports from many labs that ARF6 activity is dramatically increased in several cancers. In our most recent study, we show how ARF6 can propagate Wnt signaling, leading to proliferative phenotypes that are frequently seen in epithelial tumors, growths of irregularly-shaped cells on the outer membrane of an organ or gland.” Read the abstracts of the MCB article and the SS article.