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Cancer gene drives pivotal decision in early brain development
Date:11/13/2007

Nov. 13, 2007 -- A gene linked to pediatric brain tumors is an essential driver of early brain development, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found.

The study, published in October in Cell Stem Cell, reveals that the neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1) gene helps push stem cells down separate paths that lead them to become two major types of brain cells: support cells known as astrocytes and brain neurons.

The NF1 gene is mutated in the inherited medical condition known as neurofibromatosis type 1. The new results show that scientists likely will need separate treatments to deal with this condition's two major symptoms, brain cancers and learning disabilities.

"Our findings also have potential implications for the general study of brain development," says senior author David H. Gutmann, M.D., Ph.D., the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor of Neurology and director of the Washington University Neurofibromatosis Center. "Neuroscientists have identified a number of genes that regulate brain cell development, but this gene is particularly interesting because it is affecting cells at a very early stage."

More than 100,000 people in the United States have neurofibromatosis type 1, making it the most common tumor predisposition syndrome affecting the nervous system. The brain tumors that appear in 15 to 20 percent of neurofibromatosis type 1 patients come from brain support cells known as astrocytes; in contrast, scientists believe the learning disabilities present in 60 to 70 percent of these patients are mainly due to problems in brain neurons. These symptoms can occur individually or in combination.

This puzzled scientists how was an alteration in one gene affecting two very different cell types? Astrocytes belong to a category of brain cells known as glial cells that support, protect and nourish neurons and regulate the brain environment. Neurons are believed to do the "work" of thought and memory using elec
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Contact: Michael C. Purdy
purdym@wustl.edu
314-286-0122
Washington University in St. Louis
Source:Eurekalert

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