Increasing evidence indicates that the nervous system plays a critical role in cancer progression. This is particularly true in cancers that occur within the central nervous system. Communication between neurons and cancer cells is a fundamental component of brain cancer pathophysiology, both for primary gliomas and for brain metastases. Neuronal activity drives growth of glial malignancies through secreted growth factors and through direct electrochemical synaptic communication. Reciprocally, brain cancers influence neuronal function, increasing neuronal activity and modulating the function of the circuits into which the cancer cells structurally and electrically integrate. Advancing understanding of neuron-cancer interactions will elucidate new therapeutic strategies for these presently lethal brain cancers.
Michelle Monje, MD PhD, Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences, Stanford University