Cells Play “Tag” to Determine Direction of Movement

English: Europe 1916 by Boardman Robinson. Ant...
Europe 1916 by Boardman Robinson. Anti-war cartoon depicting Death enticing an emaciated donkey towards a precipice with a carrot labeled “Victory.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I want to report the findings of researchers in Barcelona and London, as they may have implications for future cancer management.

The study: Investigators looked at cells in the neural crest, a very mobile embryonic structure in vertebrates that gives rise to most of the peripheral system (and other cell types, including in the cardiovascular system, pigment cells in the skin, and some bones, cartilage, and connective tissue in the head.

How cool is this? When cells in our bodies move collectively, they do so in a fashion similar to the game of “tag.” This allows them to coordinate their movement in a particular direction. Researchers saw that during development, these neural crest cells chase other types of cells – so-called placodal cells that give rise to sensory organs – which dash away when approached. The cell sheet is thus propelled in a certain direction.

My take: The cells behave like a donkey chasing a carrot. It chases, but never quite reaches the target. This gives us insights about cell migration, a critical process in development and wound healing. But what if this better understanding of why cells move the way they do led to valuable insights into how cancers develop and spread?

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

About the author: I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

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