NEW YORK, NY, February 27, 2014 New research from Memorial Sloan Kettering provides fresh insight into the biologic mechanisms that individual cancer cells use to metastasize to the brain. Published in the February 27 issue of Cell, the study found that tumor cells that reach the brain and successfully grow into new tumors hug capillaries and express specific proteins that overcome the brain's natural defense against metastatic invasion.
Metastasis, the process that allows some cancer cells to break off from their tumor of origin and take root in a different tissue, is the most common reason people die from cancer. Metastatic brain tumors are ten times more common than primary brain cancers.
Yet most tumor cells die before they can take root in the brain, which is better protected than most organs against colonization by circulating tumor cells. To seed in the brain, a cancer cell must dislodge from its tumor of origin, enter the bloodstream, and cross densely packed blood vessels called the blood-brain barrier. Until now, little research has been done into how metastatic brain tumors develop, but previous mouse experiments that imaged metastatic breast cancer cells over time have shown that of those cancer cells that do make it to the brain, fewer than one in 1,000 survive.
"We didn't know why so many of these cells die," says Joan Massagu, PhD, Director of the Sloan Kettering Institute and senior author of the study. "What kills them? And how do occasional cells survive in this vulnerable state sometimes hiding out in the brain for years to eventually spawn new tumors? What keeps these rare cells alive and where do they hide?"
In the Cell study, Dr. Massagu, with Fellow Manuel Valiente, PhD, and other team members, found that in mouse models of breast and lung cancer two tumor types that often spread to the brain many cancer cells that enter the brain are killed by astrocytes. These killer cell
|Contact: Caitlin Hool|
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center