Research group Cora-Ann Schoenenberger
Structural and mechanical plasticity of healthy cells and tumors
The cytoskeleton mediates the structural and nanomechanical plasticity of cells in health and disease. Pathologically altered nanomechanical properties may serve as diagnostic markers for cancer.
The cytoskeleton is inherently involved in every change in the cell, be it an alteration in shape, movement, transport, or the regulation of individual genes. The cytoskeleton also transmits environmental signals to the nucleus and implements its response. Disruption of the precisely regulated temporal and spatial control of the cytoskeleton leads to diseases such as cancer.
The many facets of the actin cytoskeleton
Actin is the molecular building block of a dynamic cell-specific network responsible for changes in cell shape and mobility. The cytoskeleton is often altered under pathological conditions such as in cancer. We are investigating the relationship between the structure and function of different actin assemblies in cells and entire tissues in order to understand their significance in the development and progression of tumors.
We are combining biochemical methods with light microscopy, electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy (AFM) to study these actin structures. The latter allows us to measure the elasticity of cells and tissues in the nanometer range. In this way, we can study the relationship between the cytoskeleton and the elastic properties of a cell, as well as the influences exerted by the surroundings.
Nanomechanical properties as diagnostic markers for breast cancer
AFM studies on tissue specimens of breast cancer in the mouse model show that different types of tumor and stages of tumor development can be distinguished on the basis of their elasticity signature. In a pilot study, we are now investigating the potential of AFM measurements for the diagnosis and prognosis of breast cancer in humans.