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Dividing cells can revert to dormant state

Recent research discovered that cells in the process of dividing have the ability to revert back to a dormant state, which contradicts established notions about cell division. This finding holds the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment by offering insights into preventing the recurrence of cancer. The study, conducted by scientists from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spearheaded this groundbreaking investigation.

A groundbreaking study led by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has revealed unexpected findings about the reversibility of cell division. Contradicting long-held beliefs, the research suggests that cells preparing to divide can reverse the process and return to a resting state. This discovery not only challenges our understanding of cell division but also offers potential insights for developing more effective treatments, particularly in preventing cancer relapse. The study sheds light on the intricate mechanisms governing cell fate decisions and opens up new avenues for therapeutic interventions.

Cell Division Reversal

Traditionally, it was believed that once cells pass a critical point in the cell cycle known as the "point of no return," they are committed to division and do not have the ability to halt the process. However, the NIH study demonstrated that if cells in the early stages of division were interrupted and deprived of growth-promoting signals called mitogens, they could stop the division process and enter a resting state. This discovery challenges the notion that cell division is an irreversible event and highlights the dynamic nature of cellular decision-making.

Steven D. Cappell, Ph.D., Stadtman Investigator, Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Genetics (NCI/CCR) explains:

If interrupted early in their preparation to divide, cells were able to halt the division process, known as mitosis. The finding, led by researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) [...] could point toward more effective treatments to interrupt the process by which cancer cells divide quickly and spread.

Competing Clocks and Cellular Decision-Making

The research team captured videos of thousands of cells undergoing mitosis and observed their behavior when mitogens were withdrawn. Surprisingly, approximately 15% of the cells exited the cell cycle and returned to a resting state. The common factor among these cells was that they were less advanced in the cell cycle compared to others when growth-promoting signals ceased. Importantly, this reversible behavior was observed across different cell types, including primary, non-transformed, and transformed cells. The study revealed that the decision of cells to enter mitosis or exit the cell cycle is determined by a competition between two clocks: the mitosis clock and the cell cycle exit clock. Cells closer to the S phase were more likely to exit the cell cycle, while those closer to mitosis were more likely to proceed with division. These findings challenge the notion of a single decision point and instead highlight a complex interplay of factors influencing cell fate determination.

Implications for Cancer Treatment

The discovery of cell division reversibility has significant implications for cancer treatment strategies. It suggests that therapies targeting the cell cycle regulators CDK4 and CDK6, such as the drug palbociclib (Ibrance), may interrupt cell progression through the cycle differently than previously believed. The researchers are now exploring the possibility of leveraging this newfound understanding to design more durable therapies. Combining CDK4 and CDK6 inhibitors with traditional chemotherapy drugs that induce DNA damage could potentially disrupt the cell cycle and prevent cancer cells from dividing rapidly and spreading.


The NIH-led study challenges the conventional view of cell division as an irreversible process and uncovers the reversible nature of cell fate decisions. By elucidating the intricate mechanisms underlying cell cycle control, this research opens up new avenues for developing innovative cancer treatments that target the reversibility of cell division. The findings emphasize the dynamic nature of cellular decision-making and pave the way for further investigations into other biological processes where temporal competition between mutually exclusive fates plays a crucial role. Ultimately, these insights may have broad implications beyond cell cycle regulation, offering novel perspectives on cellular decision-making in various contexts, including proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis.