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Subtypes of ependymomas arise from rare stem cells in the nervous system

Brain tumors called ependymomas that occur in different parts of the central nervous system appear to arise from subpopulations of stem cells called radial glia cells (RGCs), according to investigators at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The discovery explains why some identical-looking ependymomas are actually distinctly different diseases, the researchers said.

This new information, in combination with the techniques used to conduct the study, holds promise for designing more effective treatments for ependymomas as well as for other solid tumors. A report on this work appears in the October issue of Cancer Cell. RGCs are unspecialized cells that line the surface of the ventricles (fluid-filled spaces in the brain) and the spinal cord, and give rise to normal mature cells in the nervous system. The St. Jude study found strong evidence that when rare populations of RGCs acquire mutations that disrupt the cell signaling pathways controlling growth and differentiation, these cells reproduce continually and give rise to an ependymoma.

The St. Jude finding that RGCs can give rise to these tumors is consistent with evidence from a variety of researchers that cancers arise from, and are maintained by, a rare number of mutated stem cells called cancer stem cells, according to Richard Gilbertson, M.D., Ph.D., associate member in the Developmental Neurobiology and the Hematology-Oncology departments. Gilbertson is senior author of the Cancer Cell paper.

The current discovery at St. Jude explains why ependymomas arising in various parts of the central nervous system are clinically different, even though they look the same histologically (as seen under a microscope), the St. Jude researcher said. For example, although all ependymomas look alike, supratentorial ependymomas arise in the top part of the brain in both adults and children; often cause weakness in the arms and legs, visual problems and seizures; and have a survival rate of 50-60 percent. P
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Contact: Kelly Perry
kelly.perry@stjude.org
901-495-3306
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
17-Oct-2005


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