New potential to prevent leukaemia spread to central nervous system

18 Jun 2009

Getting into the central nervous system

Clues as to how leukaemia cells can get into the central nervous system (CNS) are reported this week in Nature. It’s hoped that the findings could reveal new drug targets to stop cancer spread.

T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL) is a blood cancer that mainly affects children and adolescents, and is often associated with spread to the CNS. Patients are usually given intensive irradiation to the brain in attempt to prevent this; a drastic measure for which the increase in survival is thought to outweigh the significant side-effects.

Iannis Aifantis and colleagues developed a mouse model of T-ALL to explore the signals that help these cancer cells to cross into the CNS. They show that the chemokine receptor CCR7 is crucial for getting the T-ALL cells into the CNS. The binding partner of CCR7, CCL19, is also implicated, and the authors believe that blocking their interaction opens an exciting therapeutic window for preventing CNS spread.