Peripheral Nerve Schwann Cells Migrate to Pancreas and Colon Cancer Cells Before Invasion

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In a study reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute,  Demir and colleagues used novel three-dimensional migration and Schwann cell outgrowth assays to monitor the timing and specificity of Schwann cell migration and cancer invasion toward peripheral neurons through digital time-lapse microscopy.  They found that Schwann cells migrated toward pancreatic and colon cancer cells but not toward benign cells prior to cancer migration toward the peripheral neurons. Schwann cell migration was blocked by inhibition of nerve growth factor signaling using a small-molecule inhibitor of the p75NTR receptor on Schwann and pancreatic cancer cells.

Schwann cells were detected around mouse (mean % surrounded by Schwann cells = 79%) and human (mean = 53%) pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasias and murine (mean = 64%) and human (mean = 17%) intestinal adenomas. The presence of Schwann cells in the premalignant stage was associated with the frequency of neural invasion in the malignant phase.

The investigators concluded:

“Schwann cells have particular and specific affinity to cancer cells. Emergence of Schwann cells in the premalignant phase of pancreatic and colon cancer implies that, in contrast with the traditional assumption, nerves—and not cancer cells—migrate first during [neural invasion].” ■

Demir IE, et al: J Natl Cancer Inst 106(8): dju184, 2014.