Mechanoelectrical transduction is a cellular signalling pathway where physical stimuli are converted into electro-chemical signals by mechanically activated ion channels. We describe here the presence of mechanically activated currents in melanoma cells that are dependent on TMEM87a, which we have renamed Elkin1. Heterologous expression of this protein in PIEZO1-deficient cells, that exhibit no baseline mechanosensitivity, is sufficient to reconstitute mechanically activated currents. Melanoma cells lacking functional Elkin1 exhibit defective mechanoelectrical transduction, decreased motility and increased dissociation from organotypic spheroids. By analysing cell adhesion properties, we demonstrate that Elkin1 deletion is associated with increased cell-substrate adhesion and decreased homotypic cell-cell adhesion strength. We therefore conclude that Elkin1 supports a PIEZO1-independent mechanoelectrical transduction pathway and modulates cellular adhesions and regulates melanoma cell migration and cell-cell interactions.
Keywords: cancer biology; cell adhesion; cell biology; cell migration; human; mechanically activated ion channels; mechanotransduction; melanoma.
Plain Language Summary
When cells receive signals about their surrounding environment, this initiates a chain of signals which generate a response. Some of these signalling pathways allow cells to sense physical and mechanical forces via a process called mechanotransduction. There are different types of mechanotransduction. In one pathway, mechanical forces open up specialized channels on the cell surface which allow charged particles to move across the membrane and create an electrical current. Mechanoelectrical transduction plays an important role in the spread of cancer: as cancer cells move away from a tumour they use these signalling pathways to find their way between cells and move into other parts of the body. Understanding these pathways could reveal ways to stop cancer from spreading, making it easier to treat. However, it remains unclear which molecules regulate mechanoelectrical transduction in cancer cells. Now, Patkunarajah, Stear et al. have studied whether mechanoelectrical transduction is involved in the migration of skin cancer cells. To study mechanoelectrical transduction, a fine mechanical input was applied to the skin cancer cells whilst measuring the flow of charged molecules moving across the membrane. This experiment revealed that a previously unknown protein named Elkin1 is required to convert mechanical forces into electrical currents. Deleting this newly found protein caused skin cancer cells to move more slowly and dissociate more easily from tumour-like clusters of cells. These findings suggest that Elkin1 is part of a newly identified mechanotransduction pathway that allows cells to sense mechanical forces from their surrounding environment. More work is needed to determine what role Elkin1 plays in mechanoelectrical transduction and whether other proteins are also involved. This could lead to new approaches that prevent cancer cells from dissociating from tumours and spreading to other body parts.
© 2020, Patkunarajah et al.
Conflict of interest statement
AP, JS, MM, LS, JB, JT, CC, CF, OS, MO, RF, ME, CW, BM, MB, GL, KP No competing interests declared
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- APP1138595/National Health and Medical Research Council
- SFB958,project A09/Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
- APP1135974/National Health and Medical Research Council
- SFB958,project Z03/Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
- Postdoctoral Fellowship/Humboldt Foundation