Plant pathogen yields substance to fight neuroblastoma

Jan 17, 2008

Drug treatment of neuroblastoma, a tumor of the nervous system in children, poses major problems. Therefore, scientists at the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) have been searching for substances that are suitable as a basis for developing better drugs. Now they have found a candidate: HC-toxin, which is isolated from a fungal plant pathogen. The substance from the maize pathogen reprograms neuroblastoma cells in such a way that they behave almost like healthy cells again.

Normally, the fungus Helminthosporium carbonum leads to reduced harvests for maize farmers. Yet a specific constituent of the pathogen, namely HC-toxin, might be very useful for medicine. The substance is used by scientists as a basis for developing a new anti-cancer drug.

HC-toxin acts on enzymes known as histone deacetylases (HDACs), which structure the packaging of the genetic material, or DNA. HDAC enzymes change, among others, the histones – proteins around which the DNA is wrapped. Alterations in the packaging of the genetic material are suspected to cause cancer or promote its spread. Therefore, scientists are studying substances that inhibit HDAC enzymes for their ability to fight malignant tumors.

Among these substances is HC-toxin, which has now been investigated by researchers of the Clinical Cooperation Unit “Pediatric Oncology” at the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ). They found out that neuroblastoma cells lose several of their cancer-typical properties when under the influence of the substance: They divide less frequently, show less invasive growth and even their outside appearance resembles healthy nerve cells again. These effects were observed to be stronger than with other HDAC inhibitors investigated previously.

The effect of HC-toxin is presumably based, among other things, on the fact that it promotes the function of an important cellular “cancer brake” known as RB signaling pathway. The investigators found out that the cancer brake was much more active in tumors cells that had been treated with HC-toxin than in untreated cells. They plan to conduct further research to determine whether the substance derived from the maize pathogen is suitable for developing a new drug to fight neuroblastoma.

Neuroblastoma is the second most frequent malignant tumor in children. With an average of 150 new cases diagnosed in Germany each year, neuroblastoma constitutes about seven to eight percent of all childhood cancers. Most affected children are in preschool age, one third are diagnosed under one year of age. Although treatment has been improved over the past few years, chances of recovery from advanced stage neuroblastoma continue to be very low. In addition, the drugs being used often cause serious side effects.

Source: Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres

Explore further: Research into brain control of liver lipid production could cause break in obesity, diabetes treatment

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Obama recommends extended wilderness zone in Alaska

5 hours ago

US President Barack Obama said Sunday he would recommend a large swath of Alaska be designated as wilderness, the highest level of federal protection, in a move likely to anger oil proponents.

NASA craft set to beam home close-ups of Pluto

5 hours ago

Nine years after leaving Earth, the New Horizons spacecraft is at last drawing close to Pluto and on Sunday was expected to start shooting photographs of the dwarf planet.

Navy wants to increase use of sonar-emitting buoys

7 hours ago

The U.S. Navy is seeking permits to expand sonar and other training exercises off the Pacific Coast, a proposal raising concerns from animal advocates who say that more sonar-emitting buoys would harm whales and other creatures ...

Uganda seizes massive ivory and pangolin haul

7 hours ago

Ugandan wildlife officers have seized a huge haul of elephant ivory and pangolin scales, representing the deaths of hundreds of endangered animals, police said Sunday.

Recommended for you

Using stem cells to grow new hair

7 hours ago

In a new study from Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham), researchers have used human pluripotent stem cells to generate new hair. The study represents the first step toward the development ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.