A protein called Twist, which orchestrates gene activity in cells, facilitates the spread of some breast cancers, according to a study in the June 25 Cell.
Because it induces a cell to disengage from its surroundings and float freely, Twist lets nascent cells migrate. Without such movement, embryonic development would come to a halt. This central role in cell migration has also implicated the protein in cancer metastasis.
By screening dozens of mouse genes, physician Sridhar Ramaswamy of Harvard Medical School in Boston and his colleagues found that the one encoding Twist was active in breast cancer that had arisen spontaneously. Mice displaying forms of the cancer most prone to spread had the highest amounts of Twist in their tumors.
Twist binds to DNA, switching on some genes and turning off others. For example, one Twist-regulated gene encodes a protein called E-cadherin, which works like two-sided sticky tape to hold together cells. Ramaswamy's team h