Optic nerve firing may spark growth of vision-threatening childhood tumor

Author: NIH, Pan Y., et al.
Published On: 07/22/2021

In a study of mice, researchers showed how the act of seeing light may trigger the formation of vision-harming tumors in young children who are born with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) cancer predisposition syndrome. The research team, funded by the National Institutes of Health, focused on tumors that grow within the optic nerve, which relays visual signals from the eyes to brain. They discovered that the neural activity which underlies these signals can both ignite and feed the tumors. Tumor growth was prevented or slowed by raising young mice in the dark or treating them with an experimental cancer drug during a critical period of cancer development.

“Brain cancers recruit the resources they need from the environment they are in,” said Michelle Monje, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, and co-senior author of the study published in Nature. “To fight brain cancers, you have to know your enemies. We hope that understanding how brain tumors weaponize neural activity will ultimately help us save lives and reduce suffering for many patients and their loved ones.”

The study was a joint project between Dr. Monje’s team and scientists in the laboratory of David H. Gutmann, M.D., Ph.D., the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor and the director of the Neurofibromatosis Center at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

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