The mechanism behind how elevated levels of particular proteins in cancer cells trigger hyperactivity in other proteins, which increases the growth and spread of a variety of cancers, has been unraveled.
Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center, with colleagues in Spain and Germany, found that increased levels of expression of some members of a protein family called guanine nucleotide exchange factors (GEFs) triggered unsuspected hyperactivation of G proteins and subsequent progression or metastasis of cancer.
"We found that elevated expression of each GEF is associated with a shorter, progression-free survival in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer," said lead author of the study, Dr Pradipta Ghosh, associate professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "The GEFs fared better as prognostic markers than two well-known markers of cancer progression and the clustering of all GEFs together improved the predictive accuracy of each individual family member."
But counting CTCs in the bloodstream has limited utility, said Ghosh. "Enumeration alone does not capture the particular characteristics of CTCs that are actually tumorigenic and most likely to cause additional malignancies."
Numerous efforts are underway to improve the value and precision of CTC analysis. Ghosh said the new findings are a step in that direction. First, that GEFs activate trimeric G proteins and second, that G protein signaling is involved in CTCs. G proteins are ubiquitous and essential molecular switches involved in transmitting external signals from stimuli into cells' interiors. They have been a subject of heightened scientific interest for many years.
Ghosh and colleagues found that elevated expressions of non-receptor GEFs activate Gαi proteins, fueling CTCs and ultimately impacting the disease course and survival of cancer patients.
"Our work shows the prognostic impact of elevated expressions of individual and clustered GEFs on survival and the benefit of transcriptome analysis of G protein regulatory proteins in cancer biology," said Ghosh. "The next step will be to carry this technology into the clinic where it can be directly applied to deciphering a patient's state of cancer and how best to treat."
The findings are published in the Scientific Reports.