Brain cancer cells communicate with astrocytes to enhance tumor growth by energy transfer

Malignant brain tumors belong to a group of cancers with bleak prognosis. These tumors are resistant to treatment and considered incurable. Patient survival is approximately 18 months despite surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Recent research indicates that the tumor microenvironment, which consists of normal cells, has a tight communication with tumor cells to promote growth and treatment resistance. In the present collaborative work, research teams lead by Hrvoje Miletic from University of Bergen/Haukeland University Hospital and Justin Lathia from Cleveland Clinic demonstrate that brain tumor cells communicate with a normal brain cell type called astrocytes to enhance tumor growth by energy transfer.

Brain tumor cells and astrocytes connect physically via extensions called microtubes. In these microtubes the researchers found an abundance of mitochondria, which are small cell organelles generating energy for living organisms. Mitochondria are transferred through these microtubes from astrocytes to tumor cells and this transfer of energy increases brain tumor growth. "The results from this project lay the foundation for future research on communication between tumor cells and astrocytes which is urgently needed to better understand the development of brain tumors", says Hrvoje Miletic.

Further insights into this communication network may also lead to development of new treatment strategies in the future.

Journal reference:

Watson, D. C., et al. (2023). GAP43-dependent mitochondria transfer from astrocytes enhances glioblastoma tumorigenicity. Nature Cancer.


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