December 15, 2011

Virus-linked cancer gets help from host

Host cell protein may be a target for strategies to limit spread of virus-induced squamous cell cancers.

Digital concept image of HPV / human papilloma virus (iStock)

Although viruses like HPV (human papilloma virus) are involved in a considerable number of cancers, it takes more than the viral infection for cancer to develop. Host proteins also play important roles. Mary Zutter and colleagues are exploring the role of integrins – proteins that help cells attach to each other – in cancer progression.

In a recent study published in PLoS ONE, the researchers report that α2β1 integrin modulates the growth and progression of squamous cell carcinoma, a common class of epithelial cancers caused by HPV. They showed that α2β1 stimulated pre-cancerous cellular changes caused by HPV infection in mice. Tumors in HPV-infected mice lacking α2β1 were less likely to metastasize (or spread) to the lymph nodes. And tumor cells expressing the integrin, when injected into host mice, showed increased growth compared to tumors lacking the protein, regardless of the integrin status of the host.

The results suggest that α2β1 integrin may be a potential target for strategies to limit the spread of certain squamous cell cancers.

The research was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.