Societal interactions in ovarian cancer metastasis: A quorum-sensing hypothesis

Jonathan Hickson, S. Diane Yamada, Jonathan Berger, John Alverdy, James O'Keefe, Bonnie Bassler, Carrie Rinker-Schaeffer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The biochemical and biological mechanisms metastatic cancer cells use to function as communities and thwart internal and external growth control mechanisms remain undefined. In this work, we present the hypothesis that cancer cells may use a Quorum-Sensing mechanism to regulate multicellular functions and control steps in metastatic colonization. Quorum sensing is a bacterial cell-cell communication process used to track increasing cell-population density and, in response to changes in cell number, coordinate gene expression and behavior on a community-wide scale. Important parallels between the behavior of societies of bacterial cells and societies of malignant cancer cells exist in the bacterial literature. Of relevance to metastasis is the finding that pathogenic bacteria use quorum sensing to determine when their population numbers are high enough to collectively form biofilms in or on host organisms. Biofilms are complex, heterogeneous communities of bacterial cells encased within an extracellular matrix attached to a solid surface. Biofilms exacerbate disease and are refractory to a battery of therapies. We suggest that the quorum-sensing-controlled bacterial biofilm formation process closely parallels the steps in metastatic colonization. Cells migrate toward/on target surfaces (organ-specific homing), show cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions (tumor cell-stromal cell crosstalk), remain subclinical until they can mount an effective attack (dormancy), form complex structures with channels for nutrient flow (vascularized lesions), and contain resistant cells which can cause disease recurrence (persistors). Using ovarian cancer as an example, we present data supporting the connection between metastatic colonization and quorum sensing and discuss the implications for understanding and controlling metastasis formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-76
Number of pages10
JournalClinical and Experimental Metastasis
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


  • Metastatic colonization
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Quorum sensing


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