Brain-Metastatic Melanoma: a Neurotrophic Perspective

Dario MARCHETTI, Yvonne DENKINS, Jane REILAND, Andrea GREITER-WILKE, Jennifer GALJOUR, Brian MURRY, Jason BLUST, Madhuchhanda ROY

Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences, Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, Baton Rouge, USA


The brain is a unique microenvironment enclosed by the skull and maintaining a highly regulated vascular transport barrier. To metastasize to the brain, malignant tumor cells must attach to microvessel endothelial cells, invade the blood-brain barrier (BBB), and respond to brain survival and growth factors. Neurotrophins (NT) are important in brain invasion because they stimulate this process. In brain-metastatic melanoma cells, NT can promote invasion by enhancing the production of extracellular matrixdegradative enzymes such as heparanase, an enzyme capable of locally destroying both the extracellular matrix and the basement membrane of the BBB. We have examined human and murine melanoma cell lines exhibiting varying abilities to form brain metastases, and have found that they express low-affinity neurotrophin receptor p75NTR in relation to their brain-metastatic potentials. They do not, however, express trkA, the gene encoding the tyrosine kinase receptor TrkA, the high-affinity receptor for nerve growth factor (NGF), the prototypic NT. Presence of functional TrkC, the putative receptor for the invasion-promoting neurotrophin NT-3, was also expressed in these cells. Brain-metastatic melanoma cells can also produce autocrine factors and inhibitors that influence their growth, invasion, and survival in the brain. Synthesis of these factors may influence NT production by brain cells adjacent to the neoplastic invasion front, such as oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. In brain biopsies, we observed increased amounts of NGF and NT-3 in tumor-adjacent tissues at the invasion front of human melanoma tumors. Additionally, we found that astrocytes contribute to the brain-metastatic specificity of melanoma cells by producing NT-regulated heparanase. Trophic, autocrine, and paracrine growth factors may therefore determine whether metastatic cells can successfully invade, colonize, and grow in the central nervous system (CNS). Pathology & Oncology Research, Vol 9, Nr 3, 147-158, 2003

Key words: brain metastasis; malignant melanoma; neurotrophins; neurotrophin receptors; p75NTR; heparanase; astrocytes

Received: Aug 25, 2003; accepted: Sep 13, 2003
Correspondence: Dario MARCHETTI, Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences, Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, Skip Bertman Drive Baton Rouge LA 70803, USA; Tel: (225) 578-9897, Fax: (225) 578-9895; E-mail:

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