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Why new vessels kill nerve cells

Illustration of a nerve cell on a colored background with light effects (Image: Colourbox.de)

FAU researchers attempt to prevent the growth of new vessels

The particularly aggressive brain tumours known as glioblastomas often prove to be resistant to chemotherapy. The reasons are the formation of new vessels and the death of nerve cells. A team of physicians headed by Nicolai Savaskan of the Chair for Neurosurgery at FAU has demonstrated how this can be prevented if a key gene in the brain tumours is deactivated. Their results have been published in the specialist journal Oncogene (DOI: 10.1038/onc.2017.146).

The treatment of cerebral tumours is frequently made more difficult by the accumulation of excess fluid in the brain. This is mainly attributable to the growth of pathological new vessels and the death of nerve cells. The team of researchers headed by Savaskan was able to demonstrate that there is elevated release of the gene ATF4 in gliomas, tumours that start in the brain or spine. ATF4 causes the death of neurons and causes a loss of healthy cerebral tissue in the surrounding area of the brain. The quality of life of patients deteriorates as a result and their survival times are shortened.

When ATF4 is blocked using drugs or genetically deactivated with the help of small RNA molecules, the loss of healthy brain tissue no longer occurs and no pathological vessels are formed. This effect is also reported from meta-analyses of clinical data for brain tumour patients collected in the National Cancer Database of the USA. This indicates that there may be a new potential approach to treatment. Chemotherapy is used to combat the growth of tumours and prevent these damaging healthy brain tissue. ‘It is as yet completely unclear as to how we will translate these insights into forms of therapy that can be used to treat brain tumour patients.’ says Savaskan. ‘However, they definitely open up completely new potential options with regard to the drug-based treatment of cerebral cancers.’

Information on the research is freely accessible online.

Further information:

Dr. Nicolai Savaskan
Phone: +49 131 8544748
nicolai.savaskan@uk-erlangen.de

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