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University of Iowa News Release


Dec. 7, 2006

UI Biology Research Team Receives $349,825 Carver Trust Grant For Cell Study

The laboratory of Christopher Stipp, assistant professor in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Biological Sciences, has received a three-year, $349,825 grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust to study an aspect of cell behavior that plays important roles both in normal cell development and in tumor cell progression.

In particular, the researchers will study how cells regulate the choice between belonging to cohesive groups or striking out on their own.

At multiple points during normal cell development, as well as in many cancers, cells must switch between stable arrays of intact sheets and a solitary, motile state, Stipp says. "The Carver Trust grant will enable the research team to study how the balance between these two states is regulated," he says.

At several points during normal development, cells covering the outer surfaces of developing organs (epithelial cells) and cells of connective tissue (mesenchymal cells) interconvert in a process that involves breaking cell-to-cell contacts and the movement of cells over extracellular surfaces.

Cells have proteins, called receptors, on their surfaces that allow them to interact with their environment. One major group (called cadherins) controls cell-to-cell contacts, while another (called integrins) allows cells to contact extracellular surfaces. In order for the transitions between the two types of behavior to occur properly, the functions of cadherins and integrins need to be regulated in concert.

"To accomplish this, the cadherin and integrin receptor systems need to 'talk' to each other so that each can come into play at the proper time," Stipp explains. "This talk consists of signaling pathways inside the cell involving protein 'messengers' that can relay information from integrins to cadherins and vice-versa.

"The same kind of 'crosstalk' between integrins and cadherins probably also plays important roles in a variety of diseases. In particular, during the metastatic spread of cancer, tumor cells arising in the epithelial cell layers of an adult may undergo a form of transition similar to what normally occurs only during development. This transformation may then promote the spread of the tumor cells, just as it promoted cell migration during development."

Stipp notes that in organs such as the heart, the ability of cells to correctly regulate their contacts with each other and with extracellular surfaces is also critical for normal cell function, and in all such cases, crosstalk between integrins and cadherins may play vital roles.

"Despite this, we still don't have a very clear picture of how the crosstalk actually occurs," he says. "Thanks to this generous grant from the Carver Trust, this project will help to fill in this gap in our knowledge by uncovering new pieces of the signaling pathways that allow cadherins and integrins to talk to each other."

The Muscatine, Iowa-based Carver Trust made the grant to Stipp and his UI biological sciences colleagues through the UI Foundation. The UI acknowledges the UI Foundation as the preferred channel for private contributions that benefit all areas of the university. For more information about the foundation, visit its Web site at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,