How Cells Communicate
“Normally fibroblasts live in stroma, epithelial cells live in ducts, and they never make physical contact. They don’t come into contact with one another until there is pathological situation cancerous cells have broken the membrane, and invaded the stroma,” Ligon said. “When that happens, they run into each other and we don’t know much about the consequences of that contact between epithelial cells and fibroblasts.”
In an earlier study, Ligon found that cancerous epithelial cells and fibroblasts do adhere to one another, despite expressing different cadherins.
“Everyone thought they wouldn’t stick together, but when we introduced mildly invasive cancerous epithelial cells to normal fibroblasts, a certain percentage stick together,” Ligon said.
“What we don’t know is whether that will happen with normal epithelial cells or more invasive cancerous epithelial cells and fibroblasts,” Ligon said. Those questions will form the basis for her next series of experiments, in which Ligon will introduce cancerous epithelial cells of varying invasiveness to healthy fibroblasts and observe the outcome.
Ligon said the results of her experiments could shed light on another puzzle: Whether her early results in which the cancerous epithelial cells and healthy fibroblasts did adhere bode ill or good for the patient.
“It is possible that this adhesion to these local cells is a good thing, in that it may be a barrier to stop metastasis. It’s also possible that it will cause these cells to be more invasive,” Ligon said.