Researchers have pinpointed a naturally occurring molecule that limits the invasive capacity of prostate cancer, suggesting that treating patients with a man-made version of the factor could prevent the cancer from spreading.
The study, “MicroRNA-141 suppresses prostate cancer stem cells and metastasis by targeting a cohort of pro-metastasis genes,” was published in the journal Nature Communications.
The molecule, miR-141, is a microRNA (miRNA) that helps control gene activity.
To learn more about processes that govern the cancer’s ability to spread, or mestastacize, researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute screened for miRNA activity in prostate cancer stem cells. They used both animals and humans in their work.
To their surprise, they found only a few miRNAs in lower levels than normal. When they manipulated the cells to produce more of the missing factors, miR-141 was the only one that could prevent cancer growth. Testing the molecule in a number of prostate cancer models, the team showed the factor also prevented metastases.
Earlier studies have yielded conflicting findings about whether the miRNA family to which miR-141 belongs have anticancer and antimetastatic properties. Some research showed it did, but others indicated it actually promotes metastasis in certain cancers.
The Roswell Park researchers explored miRNAs in cancer stem cells, which constitute only a small proportion of the cells in a tumor. That led them to hypothesize that the different results in earlier studies may mirror differences in cell characteristics.
“This study represents the most comprehensive investigation to date of the role of the miR-141 molecule in regulating prostate cancer stem cells and their role in metastasis,” Dean Tang, PhD, chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at Roswell and senior author of the study, said in a press release.
“These preliminary findings suggest that miR-141 may suppress the metastatic cascade at an early stage and that the overexpression of miR-141 in prostate cancer cells results in less metastasis. Our observations provide a rationale for developing these targeted miRNA molecules into novel antitumor and antimetastasis replacement therapies.”