Cancer cells use nanotube tentacles to suck energy-supplying mitochondria from immune cells, reports Nature Nanotechnology.
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In order to multiply and spread, cancer cells must evade the immune system. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have discovered how cancer (in this case, breast cancer) can disarm potential attackers.
As it turned out, cancer cells pop out “nanomatoes” which they reach the immune cells and “suck” from them the mitochondria that provide energy. Thanks to this behavior, the tumor becomes stronger and the immune cells become weaker. The new discovery could lead to the development of the next generation of anti-cancer immunotherapy.
“Cancer kills when the immune system is weakened and its cells are able to metastasize – and nanotubes appear to be able to help them both,” said Dr. Shiladitya Sengupta, co-director of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Engineering Therapy Center.
“It’s a completely new mechanism by which cancer cells bypass the immune system and give us a new target,” he explained.
New content online: Intercellular nanotubes mediate mitochondrial trafficking between cancer and immune cells https://t.co/SY1fCxpx16 pic.twitter.com/rxK2taJ0mi
– Nature Nano (@NatureNano) November 18, 2021
To investigate how cancer cells and immune cells interact at the nanoscale level, Sengupta and his colleagues conducted experiments in which they jointly cultured breast cancer cells and immune cells such as T lymphocytes. Using field emission scanning electron microscopy, they saw something unusual : cancer cells and immune cells seemed to be physically connected by a thin “whisker”, most often with a diameter of 100-1000 nanometers (for comparison, a human hair is 80-100 thousand nanometers).
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In some cases, the nanotubes joined together to form thicker tubes. The team then stained the lymphocyte mitochondria with a fluorescent dye and watched as bright green mitochondria were pulled from immune cells through nanotubes into cancer cells.
“By carefully maintaining the state of cell culture and observing the intracellular structures, we saw these delicate nanotubes that have stolen the energy source of immune cells “ Reports Dr. Hae Lin Jang, Principal Investigator at the Center for Engineered Therapeutics.
“It was very exciting because this kind of behavior has never been seen in cancer cells before. It was a difficult project because nanotubes are fragile and we had to be very gentle with the cells so as not to break them, ‘he said.
In an attempt to prevent tumor cells from hijacking mitochondria, scientists injected a nanotube-inhibitory agent into mouse models used to study lung cancer and breast cancer. They observed a significant reduction in tumor growth.
“One of the goals of cancer immunotherapy is to find a combination of treatments that can improve outcomes,” said lead author Dr Tanmoy Saha.
“Based on our observations, we know that there is evidence that a nanotube formation inhibitor can be combined with anti-cancer immunotherapy, to see if it can improve patient outcomes, ”he said.
# Cancer cells