Dr. Sridhar Reddy Chirasani, Professor Helmut Kettenmann and Dr. Rainer Glass (all MDC) and Dr. Michael Synowitz (Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin) have now shown in cell culture and mouse model experiments just how the body’s own protective mechanism they identified in an earlier study, actually works (Brain, July 6, 2010, doi:10.1093/brain/awq128)*.
Glioblastomas are brain tumors that are most common in adults in their mid-fifties or early sixties. The causes for developing the disease are not yet known. Researchers assume that misdirected neural stem cells / precursor cells mutate into cancer cells and can form glioblastomas.
Several years ago the MDC and Charité researchers were able to show that normal stem cell/ precursor cells of the brain attack the tumor. Apparently, the tumor itself entices these stem cells to migrate over relatively long distances from the stem cell niches of the brain. Why this is so is unclear. Moreover, the researchers still do not know which substance attract the stem cells to the tumor. However, now they have discovered how the stem cells keep the tumor in check.
Neural stem cells release BMP-7 in the brain in the vicinity of the glioblastoma cells. The protein influences a small population of cancer cells, the so-called tumor stem cells. The current consensus of researchers is that these tumor stem cells are the actual cause for the continuous tumor self-renewal in the brain. A small quantity of these cells is sufficient to form new tumors again even after surgery. BMP-7 induces signaling in the tumor stem cells, causing them to differentiate. This means that they are no longer tumor stem cells.
However, the activity of stem cells in the brain and thus of the body’s own protective mechanism against glioblastomas diminishes with increasing age. This could explain why the tumors usually develop in older adults and not in children and young people.
*These authors contributed equally to this work.Barbara Bachtler
Barbara Bachtler | Max-Delbrück-Centrum
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