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Breakthrough in study of how epithelial cells become cancerous

July 11, 2022
Osaka University
Researchers have shown that the oncogene-encoded molecule Src is responsible for epithelial cells developing invasive potential and overcoming the normal cellular defense of apical extrusion, but only when Src is located in lipid rafts in the cell membrane. Src is recruited and activated into lipid rafts by a molecule called CDCP1, which forms a molecular scaffold within the lipid rafts. CDCP1 could therefore be a promising new drug target for early-stage cancers.

Epithelial cells, which line the surfaces and organs of the body, can protect themselves against cancer by removing unhealthy or abnormal cells through a mechanism known as "apical extrusion," where the damaged cells are forcibly removed from the cell layer by the surrounding healthy cells. The underlying process by which the defenses of apical extrusion are overcome, allowing cells to become invasive and cancerous, have remained unknown. Now, however, a group from Osaka University have identified that a molecule called Src is key in this process.

Src is a key regulator of fundamental cell processes such as cell migration and adhesion. It is known to be encoded by an oncogene, a gene with the potential to cause cancer, because the abnormal activation or increased expression of Src has already been linked to various types of cancer. It is thought to play a key role in cancer progression but the mechanistic switch from its normal role to a cancerous one has remained unknown.

The cell membrane, surrounding the cell, contains dynamic arrangements of various molecules, including lipids. These can assemble into more ordered areas known as "lipid rafts," The team compared contrasting phenotypes of different cells that were transformed by Src, and showed that the location of Src within the cell membrane determined how it acted. When Src was located inside a lipid raft, cancer cells were able to become invasive and overcome the protective mechanisms of the normal cell layer.

But how is the location of Src controlled? They showed that another molecule, known as CDCP1, forms a molecular scaffold that activates Src. "By analyzing cancer cells, we showed that CDCP1 promoted cancer cell invasion," explains lead author Kentaro Kajiwara, "while inhibition of CDCP1 led to the elimination of the cancerous cells by apical extrusion."

CDCP1 recruitment of Src to lipid rafts triggers a cascade that ultimately results in cancer cells escaping the fate of apical extrusion by invading the basal layer, but that initial recruitment step is vital in this process. "The spatial control of Src activation by CDCP1 in lipid rafts is vital to convey resistance to the process of apical extrusion and allows the cancerous cells to become invasive, promoting carcinogenesis," explains senior author Masato Okada.

The expression of CDCP1 is already known to be increased in certain types of cancers, such as lung and pancreatic cancer and this work provides mechanistic insight into its roles in cancer cell invasion. This study shows that CDCP1 could be a promising target of drug treatment for early-stage cancers.

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Materials provided by Osaka University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Kentaro Kajiwara, Ping-Kuan Chen, Yuichi Abe, Satoru Okuda, Shunsuke Kon, Jun Adachi, Takeshi Tomonaga, Yasuyuki Fujita, Masato Okada. Src activation in lipid rafts confers epithelial cells with invasive potential to escape from apical extrusion during cell competition. Current Biology, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.06.038

Cite This Page:

Osaka University. "Breakthrough in study of how epithelial cells become cancerous." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 July 2022. <>.
Osaka University. (2022, July 11). Breakthrough in study of how epithelial cells become cancerous. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 4, 2024 from
Osaka University. "Breakthrough in study of how epithelial cells become cancerous." ScienceDaily. (accessed March 4, 2024).

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