Scientists coordinated by the German Cancer Research Center (as part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium, ICGC) have found the common cause that triggers the cases of pilocytic astrocytoma, which is the most frequent type of brain cancer in children. An overactive signalling pathway increases the risk of this most common type of brain tumors. They believe that drugs can be used to help affected children by blocking components of the signalling cascade.
Pilocytic astrocytomas tumours usually grow slowly; but are difficult to access by surgery and thus, these cannot be removed completely that increases the chances of recur. All of the changes involved a key cellular signalling pathway known as the MAPK signalling cascade. MAPK is an abbreviation for mitogen-activated protein kinase.
Jones, the first author of the study in journal Nature Genetics said that a couple of years ago, they had already hypothesised that pilocytic astrocytomas generally arise from a defective activation of MAPK signalling. However, in about one fifth of the cases they had not initially discovered these mutations. In a whole-genome analysis of 96 tumours they have now discovered activating defects in three other genes involved in the MAPK signalling pathway that have not previously been described in astrocytoma.
The most important conclusion of this study is that targeted agents for all pilocytic astrocytomas are potentially available to block an overactive MAPK signalling cascade at various points. The researchers might thus in the future be able to also help children whose tumours are difficult to access by surgery.
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