Drugs that thwart the effect of a chemical secreted by certain cancerous brain cells could slow the growth of deadly brain tumors, a new study suggests.
The chemical, an amino acid called glutamate, normally acts as a neurotransmitter that brain cells use to signal each other. To serve this purpose, glutamate must move cleanly between cells. However, excess glutamate spilled into the space between cells can cause neurons, the information-carrying brain cells, to fire out of control and die.
In a healthy person, any excess glutamate is promptly gobbled up by glial cells, which are brain cells that support neurons. But in many glial-cell cancers, or gliomas, the tumor cells instead secrete glutamate. The resulting abundance of the neurotransmitter appears to kill neurons and create room for the cancerous glial cells to grow in the limited space within the skull. Moreover, glutamate secreted by glioma cells may cause surviving neurons to misfire and initiate epileptic seiz