New findings from the Cleveland Clinic, published in Nature Cancer, reveal that glioblastoma cancer cells utilize mitochondria from the central nervous system to fuel their growth and form more aggressive tumors. The research highlights the transfer of energy-producing organelles from healthy astrocytes, a type of glial cell in the central nervous system, to glioblastoma cells, resulting in enhanced tumor malignancy and increased growth. The acquisition of mitochondria by cancer cells amplifies energy production and augments the presence of cancer stem cells, which are known to make cancer more resistant to treatment.
Justin Lathia, Ph.D., the Melvin H. Burkhardt Endowed Chair for Neuro-Oncology Clinical Research, emphasizes the significance of understanding the complex interactions between glioblastoma cells and the brain in developing new treatments for this highly aggressive form of brain cancer. Although the possibility of mitochondrial transfer was previously recognized, the extent of its relevance and danger in brain tumors remained unknown.
Cancers, including glioblastoma, demonstrate resilience by exploiting resources in their environment and leveraging the body's natural defense mechanisms to protect cancer cells. By comprehending how cancer cells interact with healthy cells to ensure their survival, researchers can devise novel treatments to impede cancer growth and overcome treatment resistance.
This study specifically investigated mitochondrial transfer in glioblastoma, which is the most prevalent and lethal type of primary brain cancer. The first co-authors of the paper are Dionysios C. Watson, MD, Ph.D., and Defne Bayik, Ph.D., who were previously affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic and are now associated with the University of Miami's Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Mitochondria, known as the “powerhouses” of normal cells, play essential roles in energy production and signaling processes, such as cell death. Each cell contains thousands of mitochondria, and the transfer of these organelles between cells is part of a recently discovered cell-to-cell interaction mechanism that is still being explored.
Mitochondria also play a crucial role in cancer cells, and therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation target these organelles to destroy tumors. Previous studies have demonstrated mitochondrial transfer in other neurological conditions, such as stroke, but ongoing research is elucidating the implications of this transfer on diseases and the mechanisms involved.
The introduction of mitochondria to cancer cells affects energy production processes. In the case of glioblastoma, this boost supports the properties of cancer stem cells, including self-renewal and tumorigenicity, as explained by Dr. Lathia.
Dr. Lathia underscores the fact that cancer, including its treatment, cannot be considered in isolation but must be understood within the context of a diverse ecosystem. Further investigation of this pathway holds promise for identifying new strategies to treat glioblastoma and has potential implications for understanding other types of cancer.
Source: Cleveland Clinic