The finding suggests possible targets for new cancer therapies.
Stem cells’ ability to become other cell types is crucial to our bodies, both during development and throughout life. But this potential can be our downfall if it goes wrong, turning some of our most useful cells into malignant cancers.
While investigating a pathway involved in stem cell differentiation, researchers found that rather than forming an assembly line or rigid structure, all the proteins involved coalesce into a liquid droplet. Through modeling and manipulation, the team began to reveal how cells use this droplet to process and relay information, and how it might malfunction in cancers.
Their results appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“The same processes that organize dew drops on a spiderweb are happening in the cells to make this liquid, molecular computer appear or disappear on command,” says senior author Max Wilson, an assistant professor in the department of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “And when it goes wrong, it causes basically 100% of colorectal cancers and is implicated in a large number of other cancers.”