Dying cancer cells make remaining glioblastoma cells more aggressive and therapy-resistant
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Credit: UAB

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A surprising form of cell-to-cell communication in glioblastoma promotes global changes in recipient cells, including aggressiveness, motility, and resistance to radiation or chemotherapy.

Paradoxically, the sending cells in this signaling are glioblastoma cells that are undergoing programmed cell death, or apoptosis, according to research by a team at institutes in the United States, Russia and South Korea.

The dying cancer cells send their signals by means of extracellular vesicles induced and released during apoptosis. These vesicles — small, membrane-bound blobs known as exosomes — carry components that alter RNA splicing in the recipient glioblastoma cells, and this altered splicing promotes therapy resistance and aggressive migration.

This mechanism thus becomes a possible target for new therapies to treat glioblastoma, a primary brain cancer, and the mechanism may apply to other cancer types as well.

“Clinically, our data may provide the rationale to the molecular targeting of RNA splicing events or specific splicing factors for novel cancer therapies,” said Ichiro Nakano, M.D., Ph.D., leader of the international study being published in Cancer Cell. “This may lead to decreased acquisition of therapy resistance, as well as reduction in the migration of cancer cells.”

Nakano is an academic neurosurgeon at the

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