The David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MITThe David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

National Cancer Institute Cancer Center

Science + Engineering... Conquering Cancer Together

Richard O. Hynes

Richard O. Hynes

Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research

Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Ph.D. 1971, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


KI Research Areas of Focus:

"Our laboratory is interested in understanding the mechanisms underlying metastasis, the spread of tumor cells throughout the body.  We are particularly involved in studying the role of the extracellular matrix, a fibrillar meshwork of proteins that surrounds both normal and tumor cells and plays many important roles in tumor progression. We are also interested in changes in the metastatic cells themselves and in the contributions of normal cells such as platelets, leukocytes and blood vessels, both in metastasis and in other body functions."

Dr. Hynes is a Daniel K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research at MIT. He received his B.A. in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge, U.K., and his Ph.D. in biology from MIT in 1971. After postdoctoral work at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, where he initiated his work on cell adhesion, he returned to MIT as a faculty member. Dr. Hynes is a fellow of the Royal Society of London, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. He has received the Gairdner Foundation International Award for achievement in medical science and the Pasarow Award for Cardiovascular Research. He was previously Associate Head and then Head of the Biology Department and served for 10 years as Director of the MIT Center for Cancer Research.  He is currently a Governor of the Wellcome Trust UK.

Further Information

Research Summary

The molecular basis of cell adhesion in normal and pathological situations

Most cells adhere to their neighbors and to the extracellular matrix, a fibrillar meshwork surrounding or underlying most cells in the body. Cell adhesion plays important roles in the normal functions of cells, contributing to cellular organization and structure, proliferation and survival and gene expression. During embryological development, cell adhesion is important for the correct movements of cells modeling the embryo. In the adult, appropriate cell adhesion is necessary for numerous physiological processes and can be deranged in many diseases, including thrombosis, inflammation, and cancer.

The Hynes laboratory seeks to understand the proteins involved in cell adhesion and the ways in which these proteins control adhesion and migration of cells in both normal and pathological processes. Cell adhesion is mediated by several families of proteins, called adhesion receptors, specialized for adhesion between adjacent cells or between cells and the extracellular matrix. Adhesion receptors do much more for cells than merely sticking them down in the correct locations, although that in itself is important. They also form physical linkages between the extracellular environment and the internal structures of cells and thus control cell shape and motility.

Adhesion receptors also act as two-way transducers of signals both into and out of cells. Therefore, cells can control whether or not their adhesion receptors are functional; this is important to ensure appropriate cell adhesion. For example, when a blood vessel is damaged, blood platelets must adhere to staunch bleeding—this process is called hemostasis. They must not, however, adhere at the wrong time or place—that produces thrombosis. Similarly, leukocytes must adhere in appropriate places to fight infections; if they adhere at the wrong place or time, the result is inflammation. Alterations in cell adhesion also play important roles in the control of cell behavior during invasion and metastasis of malignant cancer cells. Thus, control of adhesion receptors is a matter of life and death. In their role as signal transducers into cells, adhesion receptors control cell proliferation, cell survival, and the expression of specific genes.

The goal of research in the Hynes laboratory is to understand these processes both at the molecular level and also in the context of intact, living organisms. So we study cell adhesion both by the methods of molecular cell biology and by using mouse models genetically modified in their cell adhesion functions. We have generated several mouse models of human diseases affecting cell adhesion, including animals with defects in the functions of their blood platelets that serve as valuable models for the study of hemostasis and thrombosis and others that affect the adhesion of white blood cells (leukocytes) that are useful models for studies of inflammation.  Our work, together with that of many other laboratories, has contributed to the development of drugs that are used to combat thrombosis, inflammation and autoimmunity.

Our current work focuses on cancer, a disease in which cell adhesion plays many important roles.  We are particularly interested in the mechanisms that control the metastatic spread of cancer cells throughout the body.  Metastasis is responsible for 90% of all cancer deaths and is much less well understood than the development of primary tumors.  If one thinks of primary tumor development as loss of growth control, one can think of metastasis as loss of positional control and that is a far more complex and insidious process.  Changes in cell adhesion contribute to the initial migration and invasion of malignant tumor cells, the first steps leading to metastasis.  Cell adhesion and cell-cell interactions also play vital roles in many later steps in metastasis, including the entry of cancer cells into the blood and their survival in the bloodstream and their arrest and establishment at distant sites in the body.  What changes contribute to these events? By understanding them, could one do something to improve treatments for metastasis? Our laboratory is investigating changes both in the tumor cells themselves and in their surrounding microenvironment, which includes both other normal cells and the extracellular matrix.  We have shown, for example, that blood platelets, although beneficial in preventing bleeding, are able to enhance the metastasis of tumor cells by binding and signaling to them and enhancing their migration, invasion and metastatic spread.  We are currently working to understand in more detail how this platelet-tumor cell interaction works and how it also involves other normal cells such as leukocytes.  Such studies may lead to new ways to intervene in metastatic spread.

Another major focus is on understanding the multiple functions of the extracellular matrix during cancer progression.  The matrix changes extensively during tumor progression and metastasis and our laboratory is playing a leading role in analyzing these changes using proteomic methods.  We have shown that many of the changes we detect in the matrix are causal in promoting metastasis and tumor survival and in promoting the development of new blood vessels that help tumors to grow and survive - so-called tumor angiogenesis.  In both these roles, proteins of the extracellular matrix affect the behavior of the cells that interact with them through adhesion receptors, including integrins and others, and these classes of proteins are another focus of research in the Hynes laboratory.  We have detected changes in several of these adhesion receptors and their intracellular mediators that also contribute to regulation of metastasis.  Integrin-matrix interactions are essential for building blood vessels both during normal development and in tumors, both primaries and metastases.  There is interest in understanding this complex process with the hope that it may be possible to inhibit tumor angiogenesis.  Extracellular matrix also constitutes an important part of the microenvironment or niche of tumor cells themselves, providing signals for growth and survival of tumor cells and also contributing to the development of resistance to radio- and chemo-therapy.  This resistance is one of the most challenging aspects of cancer therapy. 

Selected Publications

Labelle, M., Begum, S. and Hynes, R.O. (2011).  Direct Signaling Between Platelets and Cancer Cells Induces an EMT-Like Transition and Promotes Metastasis.  Cancer Cell 20: 576-590. PMC3487108

Naba, A., Clauser, K.R., Hoersch, S., Liu, H., Carr, S.A. and Hynes, R.O. (2012). The matrisome: in silico definition and in vivo characterization by proteomics of normal and tumor extracellular matrices.  Mol. Cell Proteomics. 11(4): M111.014647. Epub 2011 Dec 9. PMC3322572

Lamar, JM, Stern, P., Liu, H.,Schindler, JW, Jiang, Z. and Hynes, RO. (2012).  The Hippo pathway target, YAP, promotes metastasis through its TEAD interaction domain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 109(37):E2441-50. doi:10.1073/pnas.1212021109.  Epub 2012 Aug 13. PMC3443162

Labelle, M. and Hynes, R.O. (2012). The initial hours of metastasis: the importance of cooperative host-tumor cell interactions during hematogenous dissemination. Cancer Discov. 2(12):1091-1099. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-12-0329. Epub 2012 Nov 19. PMID:23166151

Liu, H., Ong, S-E., Badu-Nkansah, K., Schindler, J., White, F.M. and Hynes, R.O. (2011). CUB-domain-containing protein 1 (CDCP1) activates Src to promote melanoma metastasis. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 108:1379-1384; published online ahead of print January 10, 2011. doi:10.1073/pnas.1017228108. PMID: 21220330 PMCID: PMC3029734

van der Flier, A., Badu-Nkansah, K., Whittaker, C.A., Crowley, D., Bronson, R.T., Adam Lacy-Hulbert, A. and Hynes, R.O.  (2010). Endothelial integrins in developmental angiogenesis and vascular remodeling. Development 137:2439-2449. PMC2889609

Hynes, R.O. (2009)  The Extracellular Matrix: not just pretty fibrils. Science 326: 1216-1219. PMC3536535

Hynes, R.O. (2012). The Evolution of Metazoan Extracellular Matrix.                                               J.Cell Biol. 196(6): 671-679. PMC3308698

Sobolev, O., Stern P., Lacy-Hulbert A., Hynes R. O. (2009). Natural killer cells use selectins for suppression of subcutaneous tumors. Cancer Res. 69:2531-2539. PMC2694740

Astrof, S., Crowley, D. and Hynes, R.O. (2007).  Multiple cardiovascular defects caused by the absence of alternatively spliced segments of fibronectin. Devel. Biol. 311: 11-24. PMC2080666

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