Researchers have pinpointed two key molecules that drive the growth of an aggressive type of adult brain cancer.
The findings published in the journal Genes and Development shed light on the mechanisms that underpin brain cancer progression and could eventually reveal targets for the development of much-needed therapies, researchers say.
Scientists conducted lab tests on tumor cells from patients with glioblastoma, a rare but aggressive type of brain cancer.
Previous studies have found that glioblastoma cells share similarities with normal brain stem cells, which give rise to the many different cell types in the brain during development.
The team identified two molecules that are produced at high levels by the cells - called FOXG1 and SOX2.
Similar levels of these molecules are found in brain stem cells and are a defining feature of these cells.
The researchers found that SOX2 drives glioblastoma cells to keep dividing, a hallmark of cancer.
FOXG1 stops the cells from responding to other signals that would usually point them towards becoming specialized, the team found.
Both FOXG1 and SOX2 work by controlling when key target genes are switched on and off by the cell.
The researchers analysed which genes were affected and identified several factors that are involved in controlling cell division. Transcriptional targets include cell cycle and epigenetic regulators (e.g., Foxo3, Plk1, Mycn, Dnmt1, Dnmt3b, and Tet3).
The insights could open the door to new therapies that stop or slow tumor growth, the researchers say.
Glioblastoma is a fast-growing type of brain tumor. There are few options for treatment and only one in five patients will survive more than one year after diagnosis.
Lead researcher said: "Brain cancer cells seem to be hijacking important cell machinery that is used by normal brain stem cells. The tactic they appear to use is to produce high levels of these key regulators. This locks the tumor cells into perpetual cycles of growth and stops them listening to the signals that normally control cell specialization."
Two key molecules that drive the growth of an aggressive type of adult brain cancer identified!
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