Latest Discovery   |   2月 08, 2023

Cannibalistic Cancer Cells Studied in High Definition

Chemotherapy is a commonly-used treatment for multiple forms of cancer. However, when cancer cells survive chemotherapy treatment, they can phagocytose, or “eat”, other cells for nutrients and energy. Recently, a team at the University of Tulane was able to study this process in real-time and high-definition using live-cell confocal microscopy.

To study the process of cell cannibalism more deeply, the team led by Dr. Wesley Frey and Dr. James Jackson labeled different cancer cell lines with various fluorescent reporters to visualize cell engulfment. Overall, they found that different phospho-lipids localized to specific positions on predator and prey cells and that a kinase responsible for generating one of these lipids, PIK3C2B, was necessary for complete engulfment. In addition, they demonstrated that inhibition of Clathrin, a protein that associates with PIK3C2B, impaired engulfment.

The study utilized lentiviral vectors to stably integrate a PIK3C2B-GFP fusion protein, membrane targeting fluorescent constructs, and shRNAs constructed at VectorBuilder to help conduct their experiments and confirm their findings. Overall, this study provides insight into a mechanism by which cancer cells can survive and thrive post-chemotherapy treatment.

Visualization of the cell engulfment was enabled by VectorBuilder’s Vector Design Studio. VectorBuilder offers superior-quality vector cloning and lentivirus packaging for your research and clinical needs. To learn more about how you can partner with VectorBuilder to revolutionize gene delivery, get started in our Vector Design Studio

Cellular cannibalism

Figure 1. Cellular cannibalism with a lentivirally infected MCF7-LifeACT-GFP (breast cancer) predator cell that has been treated with chemotherapy (doxorubicin) engulfing an MCF7-mCherry prey cell.

Images Courtesy: Dr. Wesley Frey and Dr. James Johnson (Tulane University)


Crystal A. Tonnessen-Murray, Wesley D. Frey, Sonia G. Rao, Ashkan Shahbandi, Nathan A. Ungerleider, Joy O. Olayiwola, Lucas B. Murray, Benjamin T. Vinson, Douglas B. Chrisey, Christopher J. Lord, James G. Jackson; Chemotherapy-induced senescent cancer cells engulf other cells to enhance their survival. J Cell Biol 4 November 2019; 218 (11): 3827–3844. doi:

Frey WD, Anderson AY, Lee H, Nguyen JB, Cowles EL, et al. (2022) Phosphoinositide species and filamentous actin formation mediate engulfment by senescent tumor cells. PLOS Biology 20(10): e3001858.

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