NALCN is a Regulator of Cancer Metastasis

If cancers were not metastatic, did not spread themselves throughout the body, then cancer would be a much less dangerous medical condition. Tumors would be largely amenable to surgical removal, and long-term control and suppression of cancer, even at late stages, would be a feasible goal. Thus research into the biochemistry of metastasis is important. If commonalities exist in the regulation of metastasis across many cancers, interventions to suppress metastasis could lead to a sizable reduction in cancer mortality. The research here shows that cancers may hijack an existing regulatory mechanism controlling cell motility in order to become metastatic, which in turn suggests that this mechanism may prove to be common to many types of cancer, and thus a promising point of intervention.

Researchers found that blocking the activity of the NALCN protein in cells in mice with cancer triggers metastasis. They also discovered that this process is not just restricted to cancer. To their surprise, when they removed NALCN from mice without cancer, this caused their healthy cells to leave their original tissue and travel around the body where they joined other organs. They found, for example, that healthy cells from the pancreas migrated to the kidney where they became healthy kidney cells. This suggests that metastasis isn't an abnormal process limited to cancer as previously thought, but is a normal process used by healthy cells that has been exploited by cancers to migrate to other parts of the body to generate metastases.

Despite being one of the main causes of death in cancer patients, metastasis has remained incredibly difficult to prevent, largely because researchers have found it hard to identify key drivers of this process that could be targeted by drugs. Now that researchers have identified NALCN's role in metastasis, the team are looking into various ways to restore its function, including using existing drugs on the market.

NALCN stands for sodium (Na+) leak channel, non-selective. Sodium leak channels are expressed predominately in the central nervous system but are also found throughout the rest of the body. These channels sit across the membranes of cells and control the amount of salt - that is, sodium - that goes in and out of the cell. Controlling this process also alters the balance of electricity across the cell membrane. It is not yet clear why these channels seem to be implicated so directly in cancer metastasis.


Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.