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Wellcome Image of the Month: Colon cancer cells

13 Apr, 2012

April is National Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Approximately 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year, making it the third most common cancer. 95 per cent of all diagnoses are in people over the age of 50. If diagnosed early, bowel cancer is highly treatable, with a survival rate of more than 90 per cent over five years.

Bowel cancer is also referred to as colorectal or colon cancer. Most bowel cancers develop from benign growths called polyps on the wall of the bowel. These can be removed easily if detected early enough, but can become cancerous causing bowel cells to multiply out of control, forming a tumour. These cells can also invade surrounding tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

This image is a confocal micrograph of human colon cancer cells in culture. Cell nuclei are stained blue, the actin cytoskeleton is shown in red and plectin is stained green. Plectin is a large protein connecting different elements of the cell’s cytoskeleton. It plays a crucial role in keeping the cell together, and recently it has been shown to participate in the invasiveness of colon cancer cells.

Plectin can come in several different forms targeted to different subcellular locations. The subtype in the image above is isoform 1k, which is overexpressed in colon cancer cells. It is localised to actin-rich adhesion sites, which are essential for cell migration and invasion. Preventing the expression of plectin-1k stops the assembly of these adhesion sites and the ability of human colon cancer cells to stick to each other in culture. By understanding more about the interactions of plectin, and the way in which each of its isoforms affects a cell’s invasive properties, scientists hope to improve our understanding of colon cancer.


  • McInroy, L., & Määttä, A. (2011). Plectin regulates invasiveness of SW480 colon carcinoma cells and is targeted to podosome-like adhesions in an isoform-specific manner Experimental Cell Research, 317 (17), 2468-2478 DOI: 10.1016/j.yexcr.2011.07.013
  • Bowel Cancer UK

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form so please click the link above if you would like to use the picture that features in this post, or to quickly find related ones. Many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence and full details of the specific licence for each image are provided.

Image credit: Lorna McInroy, Wellcome Images

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