Key Gene Controlling Tumor Growth in Gliomas Pinpointed

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Cedars-Sinai investigators have identified a stem cell–regulating gene that affects tumor growth in patients with brain cancer and may strongly influence survival rates of patients. The findings, published by Edwards et al in Scientific Reports,1 may move physicians closer to their goal of better predicting the prognosis of patients with brain tumors and developing more personalized treatments for them.

To enhance understanding of how glioma cancer stem cells reproduce and how they affect patient survival, investigators spent 3 years analyzing the genetic makeup of more than 4,000 brain tumors. During their investigation, they identified a gene that regulates tumor growth, called ZEB1. The investigators’ analysis suggests that patients who don’t have the gene tend to have lower survival rates.

Study Findings

“Patients without the gene in their tumors have more aggressive cancers that act like stem cells by developing into an uncontrollable number of cell types,” said John Yu, MD, Vice Chair of Neurosurgical Oncology in the Department of Neurosurgery and senior author of the study. “This new information could help us to measure the mutation in these patients so that we are able to provide a more accurate prognosis and treatment plan.”

Dr. Yu and fellow researchers noted that although some patients with brain cancer are born without the gene, others who have it experience the gene becoming less powerful as time progresses—which could have had a role in causing the disease.

“We found an 8.5-month shorter survival rate in lower-grade glioma patients with the ZEB1 gene mutation compared to those individuals who have the gene,” said Dr. Yu, who also serves as Director of Surgical Neuro-Oncology. “We are learning that some chemotherapies are not effective in the population of individuals who have the gene deletion, so we have to treat them with different medications.” ■

Disclosure: The study authors reported no conflicts of interest.


1. Edwards LA, Li A, Berel D, et al: ZEB1 regulates glioma stemness through LIF repression. Sci Rep. February 28, 2017 (early release online).