This finding by biologists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) sheds light on a long-standing mystery about how cells can steer directly toward the source of chemical attractants, a process called chemotaxis.
This is particularly important because scientists have wondered how cancer cells can spread so quickly through the body and zero in on particular organs.
The discovery about the actions of the two genes, PI3K and PTEN, appears in tomorrow's issue of Cell.
Many cells in the human body sense chemical signals over long distances and move to the source of those signals, the UCSD researchers say. For example, when a wound becomes infected, white blood cells rush to the site of the wound to fight the infection.
The white blood cells can sense the bacteria causing the infection because the bacteria release small molecules that are detected by proteins on the surface of the white blood cells.
The UCSD researchers say there's growing evidence that many cancer cells use this method to spread throughout the body. Understanding how normal cells do this may provide insights into cancer cell behavior, the researchers say.
As well as helping control cell navigation, the interaction between the PI3K and PTEN genes is also a factor in cancer development.
UCSD researchers have been working on the complexities involving the spread of cancer for some time. This report sums up the latest developments in finding a way to retard one of the deadliest malignancies, pancreatic cancer.