Cancer research: converting growth signals from tumor cells into self-destruction signals

Cancer research: converting growth signals from tumor cells into self-destruction signals

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Controllable death or growth of tumor cells

Researchers at the German Cancer Research Center decoded a signal in cancer cells that triggered both the immediate death of the cells and the growth of tumors. What occurs through the signal is primarily determined by whether the cancer cell is alone or in a group.

The German Cancer Research Center recently presented a current study dealing with the CD95 receptor. Every cancer cell carries this receptor protein like a small antenna on the surface of the cell. CD95 appears to play a crucial role in cell death and tumor growth. This could have a significant impact on future cancer therapies and research. The results were recently presented in the renowned journal "Cell Reports".

Dedicated to death

In laboratory tests on individual cancer cells, the researchers recognized that activation of the CD95 receptor leads to the immediate death of the cell. In the hope of finding a patent recipe that can be used to destroy tumor cells in the body, they gave mice with brain tumors the appropriate CD95 binding partner (CD95L), which activates the receptor.

Dedicated people live longer

The team was amazed to find that the tumors did not die, but the opposite occurred: growth accelerated. What drives individual cells to certain death seems to stimulate a cluster of cancer cells to grow. "When examining various cancer tissues, we recognized that CD95 activation under natural conditions usually drives tumor growth," explains research director Ana Martin-Villalba.

A contradiction?

In order to clarify the apparent contradiction between the laboratory tests and the experiments on mice, the team examined CD95 activation on so-called “tumor spheres”, which are small, miniature tumors grown in the laboratory. Here too, activation of the receptors stimulated the tumor to grow.

Cancer cells are only strong together

"The effect of CD95 activation - cell death or growth - apparently depends primarily on whether it is isolated cancer cells as they grow in the culture dish or cells in a three-dimensional network," reports Gülce Gülcüler from the study team. Although individual cells are dedicated to death by activation, the cells are integrated into tissue structures in a natural environment. In such structures, activation is a growth stimulus.

New strategies against cancer

"The result enables us to develop new strategies to convert the growth-promoting signals of the CD95 receptor into death signals for the cancer cells," emphasizes Martin-Villalba. In this way, the tumor can be deprived of the opportunity to develop resistance to therapies.

First successes

Scientist Ana Martin-Villalba has been studying CD95 for many years and sees it as a key role in the fight against cancer. In a previous phase II clinical study, she already showed that blocking the CD95 signal in addition to radiotherapy can lead to improved survival. "With our current results, we have now been able to provide an explanation for the first time why the CD95 blockade actually slows cancer growth," sums up the researcher. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Ana Martin-Villalba, Gülce S. Gülcüler Balta, Cornelia Monzel, u.a .: 3D cellular architecture modulates tyrosine kinase activity thereby switching CD95 mediated apoptosis to survival, Cell Reports, 2019,
  • German Cancer Research Center: Cell death or cancer growth: a question of cohesion! (Call: November 20, 2019),

Video: Cancer immunology how cancer cells elude immune system (June 2022).


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