Embryonic signaling in melanoma: potential for diagnosis and therapy

Strizzi, L.; Hardy, K. M.; Kirsammer, G. T.; Gerami, P.; Hendrix, M. J.

Lab Invest. 2011 Apr 6; 91(6):819-24


As the frequency of melanoma diagnosis increases, current treatment strategies are still struggling to significantly impact patient survival. Some promise has been shown in treating certain melanomas by targeting activated signaling pathways resulting from specific mutations in proteins, such as BRAF and NRAS. Recently, the identification of embryonic signaling pathways in melanoma has helped us better understand certain biological characteristics, such as cellular heterogeneity and phenotypic plasticity, and has provided novel insight pertinent to diagnosis and therapy. For instance, our studies have shown that the TGF-beta family member, Nodal, is expressed in melanoma and is responsible, at least in part, for tumor cell plasticity and aggressiveness. Since the majority of normal adult tissues do not express Nodal, we reason that this embryonic morphogen could be used to identify and target aggressive melanoma cells. We have also identified that molecular cross-talk between the Notch and Nodal pathways may represent a mechanism responsible for the overexpression of Nodal in melanoma. Further exploitation of the relationship between embryonic signaling pathways and cancer pathogenesis could lead to novel approaches for diagnosis and therapy in cancers, such as melanoma.

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