Posted on Feb 15, 2013, 6 a.m.
Cells that are likely to develop into tumors exhibit a particular bioelectric signature.
Bioelectric signals underlie an important set of control mechanisms that regulate how cells grow and multiply. Michael Levin, from Tufts University (Massachusetts, USA), and colleagues have discovered a bioelectric signal that can identify cells that are likely to develop into tumors. The researchers also found that they could lower the incidence of cancerous cells by manipulating the electrical charge across cells' membranes. Using a frog embryo model, the researchers induced tumor growth by injecting the samples with mRNAs (messenger RNA) encoding well-recognized human oncogenes Gli1, KrasG12D, and Xrel3. The embryos developed tumor-like growths that are associated with human cancers such as melanoma, leukemia, lung cancer, and rhabdomyosarcoma (a soft tissue cancer that most often affects children). When the researchers analyzed the tumor cells using a membrane voltage-sensitive dye and fluorescence microscopy, they observed that the tumor sites had unique depolarized membrane voltage relative to surrounding tissue – suggesting a distinctive bioelectric signal.
Chernet, B. T., Levin, M. “Transmembrane voltage potential is an essential cellular parameter for the detection and control of tumor development in a Xenopus model.” Disease Models & Mechanisms, 8 February 2013.