Gliomas are malignant glial cells that migrate throughout the brain as a destructive form of brain cancer. According to a study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers found that gliomas disturb normal neural connections and seize control of blood vessels. In order to move away from the central tumor, gliomas travel along blood vessels, which give them access to the blood supply for nutrients. Harald Sontheimer, PhD, and researchers at the UAB Department of Neurobiology found that gliomas cut the astrocytic endfeet when they migrate. Endfeet are projections that extend from astrocytes, which are star-shaped glial cells, and connect to blood vessel walls. Cutting the endfeet disrupts a crucial neural connection that gives instructions about blood flow to muscles. In addition, gliomas damage endothelial cells, which cause the blood brain barrier to become porous and leak. This leads to severe damage to brain tissue. Although the consequences are devastating, researchers found a silver lining: high-dose, intravenous chemotherapy, which is typically used only after other therapies have been tried, could prove beneficial if employed early on during treatment. Sontheimer says continued research about the cognitive impact of cutting the connection between astrocytic endfeet and blood vessels are the next logical steps.
Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have shed new light on how cells called gliomas migrate in the brain and cause devastating tumors. The findings, published June 19, 2014 in Nature Communications, show that gliomas — malignant glial cells — disrupt normal neural connections and hijack control of blood vessels.