The Samantha Dickson Brain Cancer Unit discover brain mechanism that could target future therapies

Wednesday 19 July 2017

The group of researchers at UCL, funded by The Charity and led by Professor Paolo Salomoni and have discovered that cells are capable of migrating through tissues in the body

This movement, from where cells are born, to where they perform their various functions as mature cell types, is a crucial part of normal development.

These same movement mechanisms that operate in normal development are hijacked by cancer cells, enabling them to invade and destroy normal tissues as tumours grow and metastasize.

The brain is no exception: normal and brain tumour cells move through the brain as part of brain and brain tumour development.

With funding from The Brain Tumour Charity, the team have uncovered an important new mechanism controlling the movement of normal neuronal cells through the brain. This mechanism is also used by glioma cells –the most aggressive type of brain cancer cell.

The authors show that a protein called promyelocytic leukemia (PML) that is known to regulate normal brain development, works to allow immature neural cells, generated deep within the brain, to move to their final place of work.

Interestingly, the authors show that this same protein is also used in a similar way by migrating, mutated, immature mouse neural cells that make brain tumours as well as human glioma cells taken from patients.

The authors showed that PML controls the migration of both normal neural and brain tumour cells by controlling the expression of a second set of genes, called Slits that regulate how long nerve cell processes are guided through the brain.

Excitingly, the authors also showed that this cell moving machinery controlled by PML and SLIT could be a target for anti-tumour drugs already being tested in the clinic e.g., arsenic trioxide.

Although early in the research process, these findings uncover an important mechanism controlling brain tumour invasion that could be targeted in the clinic with novel therapies.

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