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Study: Nerves Play Key Role in Spread of Prostate Tumors

Findings may lead to new treatments (July 12)

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have found that nerves play a critical role in both the development and spread of prostate tumors. The researchers say that their findings, using both a mouse model and human prostate tissue, may lead to new therapies for preventing and treating the disease.

The study was published online in the July 12 edition of Science.

In earlier research, the authors had discovered that the sympathetic nervous system regulates hematopoeitic stem cell niches — the sites in the bone marrow where red blood cells are formed. Nerves are commonly found around tumors, but their role in the growth and progression of cancer has not been clear.

“Since there might be similarities between the hematopoeitic stem cell niche and the stem cell niches found in cancer, we thought that sympathetic nerves might also have a role in tumor development,” said study leader Paul Frenette, MD. “It turns out that, in prostate cancer, not only are sympathetic nerves involved, but so too are parasympathetic nerves.”

The researchers discovered the role of nerves in prostate cancer by first injecting human prostate cancer cells into mice and then systematically disabling various parts of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and observing how the cells fared. They found that the autonomic nervous system’s two branches have complementary functions in the development and spread of prostate cancer.

To see whether their findings were relevant to human cancer, the researchers analyzed nerve fiber densities in prostate tissue specimens taken from 43 patients with prostate cancer who had not received any treatment.

Patients who turned out to have aggressive prostate cancers had a higher density of nerve fibers within tumors and in normal prostate tissue surrounding their tumors compared with patients who had less aggressive tumors.

Sources: Science; July 12, 2013; and Albert Einstein College of Medicine; July 11, 2013.

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