Invading glioblastoma cells may hijack cerebral blood vessels during early stages of disease progression and damage the brain's protective barrier, a study in mice indicates. This finding could ultimately lead to new ways to bring about the death of the tumor, as therapies may be able to reach these deadly cells at an earlier time point than was previously thought possible. This research, published in Nature Communications, was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health.
Glioblastoma, a type of aggressive brain tumor, is one of the most devastating forms of cancer. These tumors spread quickly and are difficult to treat because the brain protects itself from foreign substances.
The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is designed to stand in the way of harmful materials leaking into the brain and to regulate the transport of important molecules back and forth between the brain and the blood. One component of the BBB is close-fitting connections (called tight junctions) that form seals between the blood vessel's endothelial cells. There are several other types of cells that cover the blood vessel, including specialized brain cells known as astrocytes, which have extensive projections, called endfeet, that cover 90 percent of the blood vessel surface. The astrocytic endfeet release molecules that regulate the tight junctions between the endothelial cells. They also release specific chemicals that cause blood vessels to expand or contract, thereby regulating blood flow in the brain. As a whole, the BBB can be viewed as a smart protective wrapping that separates the blood from the brain.
Harald Sontheimer, Ph.D., from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and his colleagues investigated the interactions between glioblastoma cells, astrocytes and cerebral blood vessels. They used mouse models of glioblastoma, fluorescent dyes and a variety of imaging te
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NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke