Children with the genetic condition neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) can develop brain and nerve tumors. If a tumor develops within the optic nerve, which connects the eye and the brain, the child may lose his or her vision.
New research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis indicates that the growth of these brain tumors is driven by nearby noncancerous neurons and immune cells, and that targeting immune cells slows tumor growth in mice. The findings, published May 1 in Nature Communications, point to new potential treatments for low-grade brain tumors in people with NF1.
“The fact that nerve cells and immune cells interact to support a tumor is a new way of thinking about how tumors develop and thrive,” said senior author David H. Gutmann, MD, PhD, the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor of Neurology and director of the Washington University Neurofibromatosis Center. “These tumors are arising in the nervous system, but until recently, few people had considered that the nerve cells themselves could be playing a role in tumor development and growth. These findings show that we have to consider nerve cells as participants, if not essential drivers, of cancer development.”