Connective tissue cells may trigger breast cancer tumor growth, says TAU

The study also found that beyond local tumor growth, the fibroblasts could cause metastases in the lungs.

Prof. Neta Erez and Nour Ershaid (photo credit: ROBERT HOFFMAN)
Prof. Neta Erez and Nour Ershaid
(photo credit: ROBERT HOFFMAN)
Connective tissue cells known as fibroblasts play a role in the development of breast cancer, a study by researchers at Tel Aviv University shows. As such, targeting and inhibiting them may inhibit metastatic relapse.
“We have shown, for the first time, that in breast cancer these fibroblasts activate a ‘misguided’ wound healing response, responding to the tissue damage caused by the cancerous growth,” said Prof. Neta Erez of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine. “Inhibiting these inflammatory signaling pathways may be beneficial in preventing metastatic relapse of breast cancer.”
Metastasis is the development of secondary malignant growths in places other than the original or primary place where the cancer developed.
In healthy people, fibroblasts are important for recovery from injury, a release by the university explained. When these cells sense tissue damage, they gravitate to the site of the wound and instigate an inflammatory response that mends damaged tissue. However, according to the TAU study led by Erez and published in Nature Communications, fibroblasts create inflammation in breast cancer tumors that facilitates tumor growth.
Moreover, the study found that beyond local tumor growth in the breast, the fibroblasts can cause metastases in the lungs.
“The fibroblasts are ‘activated,’ and, because of this activation, they recruit immune cells and affect blood vessels,” Erez explained. “In other words, breast tumors ‘hijack’ the physiologic response to tissue damage to facilitate their growth, and create a niche in a distant organ – the lungs – by ‘remote control.’”
The study was conducted in Erez’s lab by former TAU student Yoray Sharon and TAU M.D.-Ph.D. student Nour Ershaid. The research was done first on transgenic and transplantable mouse models of breast cancer, but later validated in human samples of breast cancer and in human expression data.
“Our findings encourage the design of pre-clinical and clinical studies to examine the benefits of targeting the inflammation pathway in breast cancer, which may be effective in blocking metastatic relapse,” Erez said. “We are now studying the micro-environment of metastasis in an effort to identify targets for preventive intervention that may inhibit metastatic relapse.”