Moffitt Cancer Center Researchers Discover Protein Pathway Involved in Nicotine-Induced Lung Cancer Metastasis

January 28, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. – Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, and it is estimated that more than 159,000 people in the United States died from the disease last year. Most of these deaths were because the cancer had spread to other organ sites. Following their recent discovery of a protein pathway, Moffitt Cancer Center researchers are one step closer to understanding how lung cancer cells metastasize.

Nicotine from cigarettes is a highly addictive drug that can stimulate cell growth and block cell death – two hallmark characteristics of cancer.  Recent evidence also shows that nicotine can cause cancer cells to change their shape, increase their motility and become metastatic. 

Scientists from Moffitt reported in the Jan. 19 online edition of Cancer Research that nicotine induces the metastatic spread of lung cancer cells by stimulating a protein called beta-arrestin-1. Activation of beta-arrestin-1 causes lung cancer cells to produce proteins associated with increased motility and invasion.  These proteins cause the cells to change their shape and become more motile, allowing them to move to different sites.

The researchers wanted to further investigate the mechanisms of how beta-arrestin-1 causes cell invasion.  They discovered that beta-arrestin-1 associates with another protein called E2F1 in the nucleus to promote the development of metastasis.  E2F1 is known to contribute to the development of cancer by promoting cancer cell proliferation; however, this is the first time that E2F1 has been shown to contribute to metastasis of lung cancer.

The scientists confirmed these observations in mice and in human lung cancer samples. They found that human lung cancer samples with high levels of beta-arrestin-1 also had high levels of proteins associated with cell adhesion and motility. Additionally, blocking beta-arrestin-1 in lung cancer cells prevented their growth and metastasis in mice. These observations suggest that blocking beta-arrestin-1 may be an effective therapeutic strategy for metastatic disease.

According to Srikumar Chellappan, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Tumor Biology at Moffitt, “we expect that this study will lead to new therapeutic strategies to combat cancer metastasis.  For example, inhibiting the binding of beta-arrestin-1 to E2F1 would be a potential avenue to prevent metastasis. Identification and development of novel drugs that can target beta-arrestin-1 can be an important step in this direction.”

This study was supported by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (CA127725).

About Moffitt Cancer Center
Located in Tampa, Moffitt is one of only 41 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, a distinction that recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research, its contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Moffitt is the top-ranked cancer hospital in the Southeast and has been listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of the “Best Hospitals” for cancer care since 1999. With more than 4,500 employees, Moffitt has an economic impact in Florida of nearly $1.6 billion. For more information, visit MOFFITT.org, and follow the Moffitt momentum on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

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