The growth and spread of cancerous cells requires alterations in cell polarity, and in the organization of the actin cytoskeleton. While our studies have identified complexes that control the actin cytoskeleton, we now need to determine how these actin nucleation complexes are polarized during development. We are identifying extracellular cues and components of signaling pathways that regulate the ability of these complexes to organize cytoskeletal polarity and initiate migrations. Using knockout mutants in a model organism, C. elegans, we have shown that loss of the GTPase CED-10/Rac1, any component of the actin nucleating Arp2/3 complex, or of its activator, the WAVE/SCAR complex, results in the same phenotype: failure in embryonic cell migrations, morphogenesis and altered epithelial polarity. We refer to the actin nucleation cassette encoded by Rac1- WAVE/SCAR-Arp2/3 as the GEX (GTPase/Enhancer of nucleation/actin nucleation eXecution) complex. Mammalian homologs of GEX molecules are misregulated in cancers. For example, WAVE2 is misexpressed in malignant human lung cancers and metastatic colorectal cancers (Semba et al. 2006;Iwaya et al. 2007). However, how these actin nucleation proteins are misregulated during metastasis is not understood. We have determined that some extracellular matrix (ECM) axonal guidance molecules, in addition to their role in axons, affect embryonic migrations, and they regulate the levels of GEX proteins. Objective/Hypothesis: We hypothesize that ECM signals regulate cytoskeletal polarity by recruiting, stabilizing, and/or activating GEX actin nucleation complexes in specific regions of cells. We propose to identify the guidance cues and to analyze how these upstream signals activate the GEX components to initiate migrations.
Specific Aims : (1) To determine whether extracellular matrix receptors regulate actin nucleation. (2)To determine which tissues are sending and receiving the signals that lead to cell migrations in the embryo. (3) To use targeted genetics to identify new regulators of the GEX complex. Study design:
In Aim 1 we determine the role of ECM receptors in polarized F-actin enrichment, and test if ECM receptors require the GEX complex to affect actin enrichment during morphogenesis.
In Aim 2 we determine the architecture of tissue signaling by testing which tissues require the activity of GEX and ECM components during morphogenetic movements.
In Aim 3 we identify new regulators of embryonic cell migrations by molecularly cloning new gex mutants. Clinical relevance: The ability of cancer cells to migrate is strongly correlated with malignant progression and metastasis. The human homolog of one of the genes we have identified in C. elegans, WAVE3, is down regulated in neuroblastomas and a mutation in WAVE3 has been connected to neuroblastoma and to changes in the actin cytoskeleton. Our studies may identify genetic targets for cancer detection and provide mechanistic insight into metastasis.

Public Health Relevance

These studies on the regulation of cell migrations address a major question in development and in cancer research: how cell migrations are initiated and controlled for healthy growth. During human development we need to identify the molecules that ensure healthy growth. To treat cancers before they spread, we need to understand how the process of metastasis is regulated.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
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Intercellular Interactions (ICI)
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Flicker, Paula F
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University of Medicine & Dentistry of NJ
Schools of Medicine
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