Research field: Functions of cancer genes crucial for invasion and metastasis
Group leader: Prof. Dr. Geert Berx
Tel:+32 9 33 13 650 - Fax:+32 9 221 76 73
(Note: Geert Berx' lab is part of the UGent Department of Biomedical Molecular Biology but not a VIB unit)
Cell-cell adhesion is essential during cell differentiation, tissue development, and tissue homeostasis. The poor prognosis in epithelial neoplasia is associated with the acquisition of motile or invasive properties by the cancerous cells. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a natural process of reshaping epithelia for cellular movement and is an essential process during morphogenesis. EMT is also induced through the abnormal activation of different signaling pathways during cancer progression and organ fibrosis. A crucial role in this phenotypic conversion is played by a subset of transcription factors such as Snail, Slug, SIP1/ZEB2 and EF-1/ZEB1. During EMT, these transcription factors can reprogram the epithelium at the molecular level with new biochemical instructions associated with invasive and metastatic cells. One such important gene downregulated by Snail and SIP1/ZEB2 is the invasion tumour suppressor E-cadherin. We focus particularly on how these EMT-inducing transcription factors enable non-invasive cancer cells to acquire features needed to execute the entire invasion-metastasis cascade. We also study new functional interactors and the target genes of these transcription factors, as they probably can activate motility, inhibit apoptosis, enhance invasion, and dismantle the local basement membrane. For our studies we use in vitro cell systems and in vivo mouse models, and in that way we combine functional genomic screens with genomic approaches.
Area of expertise
Technology transfer potential
Analysis of DMBA/TPA induced tumors in WT mice (left)