Prostate cancer “grows new nerves”

A press release from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston has announced that prostate cancer is associated with the development of new nerves, and that in fact the growth of such new nerves and axons may be particularly associated with aggressive forms of prostate cancer.

The press release discusses a paper by Ayala et al. published today in Clinical Cancer Research.

It has been believed for some years that “perineural invasion,” in which prostate cancer is specifically found within the nerves within and near to the prostate, is associated with more aggressive development of prostate cancer. However, it now appears as though perineural invasion may be a direct consequence of certain types of prostate cancer, rather than just an incidental consequence of the prostate cancer developing close to the nerves.

According to Dr. Gustavo Ayala, the team that made this discovery has also shown that it may be possible to regulate the growth of new nerves and axons by inhibiting the production of a protein called semaphorin 4F. Semaphorins are molecules that regulate nerve growth and direction. They are generally active only during the human growth phase, and disappear in adults, but semaphorin 4F is active in wound repair. When prostate cancer cells overproduce semaphorin 4F, new nerves result. Inhibition of semaphorin 4F prevents the growth of new nerves.

The significance of this finding is not yet fully understood, and it may take some time to understand whether the releationship between prostate cancer and nerve development is important for a small subset of prostate cancer patients or is in fact one of the underlying mechanisms that drives early tumor development and metastasis in many forms of solid tumor.

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