Researchers in the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute discovered in pre-clinical models that dormant prostate cancer cells found in bone tissue can be reawakened, causing metastasis to other parts of the body. Understanding this mechanism of action may allow researchers to intervene prior to disease progression.
"Understanding how and why dormant cells in bone tissue metastasize will aid us in preventing the spread of disease, prolonging survival and improving overall quality of life," said Chia-Yi "Gina" Chu, PhD, a researcher and postdoctoral fellow in the Uro-Oncology Research Program and lead author of the study published in the journal Endocrine-Related Cancer.
In the study, investigators found that cancerous cells in the bone were reawakened after exposure to RANKL, a signaling molecule commonly produced by inflammatory cells. Researchers then genetically engineered cells to overproduce RANKL and found that these cells could significantly alter the gene expression of surrounding dormant cells in lab studies and in laboratory mice, causing them to transform into aggressive cancer cells.
Researchers then injected these engineered RANKL cells directly into the blood circulation of laboratory mice, which caused dormant cells within the skeleton to reawaken, creating tumors within the bone. When the RANKL receptor or its downstream targets were blocked, tumors did not form.