Researchers from the University of Notre Dame have gained new insight into the initial events that lead cancer cells to detach and migrate to other parts of the body. Their findings were published in the December issue of the scientific journal Nature Cell Biology.p. Crislyn D’Souza-Schorey, Walther Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, led the team of researchers from the University’s Walther Cancer Research Center and Department of Biological Sciences. Their findings offer new understanding of the molecular basis by which epithelial cells can move and therefore impact a number of epithelia-derived cancers ? including colon, breast, prostate, hepatic and gastric cancers.p. Epithelia are sheets of cells that are maintained through interactions of individual cells with their neighbors. Adherens junctions provide strong mechanical attachments between adjacent cells. There is a strong correlation between the disassembly of the adherens junctions and the acquisition of metastatic potential, which leads to the spread of cancer. Interestingly, the transition of epithelial cells to a moving state also occurs during certain stages of embryogenesis and wound healing.p. In the Nature Cell Biology paper, D’Souza-Schorey’s team identifies the role of a molecule known as ARF6 in promoting the disassembly of the adherens junctions and cell detachment. Equipped with a molecular understanding of the initial events that lead to epithelial tumor cell invasion, the researchers will conduct additional studies in the hopes of finding a means to control the process.p. Graduate student Felipe Palacios and postdoctoral researcher Jill Schweitzer also were part of the Notre Dame research team.p. The Walther Cancer Research Center is a collaboration of Notre Dame and the Walther Cancer Institute of Indianapolis.p.