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St. Jude finds signaling system that halts the growth of a childhood brain cancer
Date:3/14/2008

A discovery by St. Jude Childrens Research Hospital scientists suggests a safer way to treat medulloblastoma, a rare but often fatal childhood brain tumor. The group found that one of the brains signaling pathways inhibits the growth of the highly aggressive cancer cells.

The researchers discovered that three proteins, designated BMP2, BMP4 and BMP7, halted the growth of medulloblastoma tumors and induced the malignant cells to develop into normal neurons.

We think we have identified a pathway that can be used to prevent tumor formation and a potential target for therapy, said Martine F. Roussel, Ph.D., a member of the St. Jude Department of Genetics and Tumor Cell Biology. A report on this work appears in the March 15 issue of Genes & Development. Roussel is the papers senior author.

Medulloblastoma occurs in the cerebellum, which is located in the lower, rear part of the brain. This cancer strikes about 350 young children in the United States annually. Although treated patients have an overall five-year survival rate of 70 percent, conventional therapies combining surgery, irradiation and chemotherapy frequently lead to permanent neurocognitive impairment.

Several research teams are seeking to decipher the intricate signaling mechanisms that govern the proliferation of cells called granule neuron progenitors (GNPs). These cells go on to develop into neurons in the cerebellum during the first year of life. But the disruption of this differentiation process can trigger medulloblastoma.

We were interested in whether there were signals that inhibited tumor formation, Roussel said. And if there were, which ones were they? Could they be used to identify new therapeutic targets?

Previous research had shown that spurring GNPs to differentiate into neurons requires that BMPs bind to a set of receptors on the cell surface. This binding results in blocking the activity of a signaling pathway triggered by another
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Contact: Summer Freeman
summer.freeman@stjude.org
901-495-3061
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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