Cancer is widely regarded as a developmental disorder. Endogenous bioelectric signals (patterns of transmembrane voltage gradients in tissues) underlie a conserved set of mechanisms that regulate development and might, therefore, be involved in tumorigenesis. Chernet and Levin investigated this possibility by testing the role of transmembrane potential in tumorigenesis in Xenopus. Using a fluorescent voltage reporter dye, they show that oncogene overexpression in Xenopus induces the formation of tumour-like structures that are characterised by a depolarised membrane potential. Importantly, this bioelectric signature can be detected before the tumours become apparent and, remarkably, hyperpolarisation of oncogene-bearing cells by expression of various ion channels reduces tumour formation. These data implicate bioelectric signalling in tumorigenesis and suggest new approaches for the early detection of tumours and for the development of anti-cancer therapies. Page 595
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