Understanding how PTEN works in the brain also is expected to shed light on how stem cells in other parts of the body develop abnormally and may contribute to tumor development in other organs.
The findings are described in an article posted Nov. 1 in the journal Science as part of the journals Science Express Web site, http://www.sciencexpress.org.
Led by Drs. Hong Wu and Xin Liu, scientists at UCLAs Jonsson Cancer Center and senior authors of the journal article, the research has demonstrated for the first time how the absence of the PTEN gene a tumor suppressor gene that frequently is mutated in many forms of cancer disrupts the growth, proliferation and death of normal brain stem cells. (Brain stem cells are immature cells that later develop into adult brain cells.) The disruption causes the stem cells to behave abnormally, which may contribute to the formation of brain tumors.
"This is the first evidence of PTENs critical role in the biology of brain stem cells, but overall, our findings could serve as a foundation for addressing any disease where stem-cell biology plays an integral role because PTEN is present in stem cells throughout the body," said Wu, who also is an assistant scientific investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and an assistant professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the UCLA School of Medicine. "The cell-signaling pathways mapped through our research also show promise as clinical targets to attack some forms of brain cancer and may have applications for other types of cancers."