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Tumors have a genetic trick to trick nerves –

Tumors have a genetic trick to trick nerves –

In cancer, there is an interaction between tumors and nerves. You can say that the tumor is talking to the nervous system. The idea of ​​a new study at Umeå University is to interpret this “conversation” in order to find ways to break it later – and thus slow the cancer or reduce the risk of its spread.

“We’re still at an early stage of research, but this opens up exciting opportunities to fight cancer in the body in a completely new way,” says Sarah Wilson, a neurobiologist at Umeå University.

Tumors cause nerve growth

All of the body’s organs contain nerves, which act as a pathway system to communicate information between the organs, the brain, and the rest of the body.

The curious fact is that many different types of tumors have an increased density of nerves in and around the tumor, compared to healthy organs. It appears that the cancer caused nerves to grow and reorganize.

Normally, the neural map of the body is created very early, already when we are embryos. In healthy people, the ability of nerves to grow and reorganize is very limited, but cancer appears to be able to disrupt this. The question was why.

Previous research has shown that tumors with high nerve density grow faster, become larger, and spread more easily to other parts of the body. They use the nerves of the tumor as a pathway out of the tumor. This process is called peripheral nerve invasion, PNI.

The goal of the researchers’ new study was to explain the molecular language used in these interactions between tumors and nerves.

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The projections of neurons act as guideposts

The researchers discovered that in the tumors there is a network of genes centered around the molecular pathways normally used for nerve development. These are the same genes and molecular networks that help the nerve grow and eventually reach all parts of the body in the fetus.

Previous studies have shown that when the nervous system is forming in the fetus, nerve cell projections, called axons, in certain neurons are used by other neurons to travel to the correct place in the nervous system. Axons create a kind of map for other cells to find their way.

The Umeå researchers, along with researchers from around the world, have previously shown how the location and direction of axons from neurons are controlled by networks of specific genes.

Cancer appears to reactivate genes

The new discovery is that different cancers have their own differences in a set of genes that normally control the roadmap for nerves. This may be the key to how nerves are tricked into remapping their paths.

Cancer appears to reactivate genes that are active in healthy people during the embryonic stage where they control development of the nervous system, but in cancer they appear to send signals that favor tumor growth and spread.

Tumors seem to overtake the genetic programs of nerves for their own destructive purposes. Sarah Wilson says continuing research could provide answers about how tumors can be outmaneuvered from using genes to control the nervous system.

Scientific study

Dysregulation of essential neurodevelopmental pathways – a common feature of cancers with perineural invasionFrontiers in genetics.

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Sarah Wilson, Lecturer in Neurobiology at the Department of Integrative Medical Biology at Umeå University, [email protected]