Mesothelioma is hard to diagnose, and it is difficult to treat. However, researchers have been looking into brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) as both a way to help doctors diagnose the disease sooner and as a target for treatment.

What Is Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor?

BDNF is a protein found normally in the human body. Researchers have linked it with the growth of tumors because BDNF plays a role in the formation of new blood vessels within mesothelioma tumors.

In order to cause the body to make the vessels, BDNF has to send messages to other cells using messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) molecules. BDNF sends out eight distinct mRNA; however, only one commonly appears in the lungs.

How Can BDNF Help With Diagnosis?

The researchers looked at fluid samples from the lungs of mesothelioma patients, and they discovered that these samples contained high levels of BDNF. While BDNF doesn’t appear to be as good at diagnosis as the mesothelioma biomarker soluble mesothelin-related peptide (SMRP), one benefit BDNF has over SMRP is that it shows up in all subtypes of mesothelioma. So, regardless of whether a patient has epithelioid, sarcomatoid or biphasic cell type, doctors will still be able to find BDNF in the fluid they pull from their lungs (pleural effusions).

There are two different ways that doctors can diagnosis mesothelioma:

  1. Tissue samples (histology)
  2. Fluid samples (cytology)

To get the tissue sample, doctors need to perform a tissue biopsy, which is a surgical procedure and it can only happen after the doctors determine the location of the tumor. Fluid samples, on the other hand, can be drawn out of the lining of the lungs using a needle. This can be done much sooner than a biopsy, and help patients receive a diagnosis sooner because fluid buildup is one of the earliest signs of mesothelioma.

How Can BDNF Help With Prognosis?

Another reason that BDNF may someday replace or complement SMRP as a diagnostic tool is its added benefit of being useful for determining a likely prognosis—the likely course a disease will take. While SMRP is not helpful in this regards, an overexpression (high levels) of BDNF can be linked to lower survival rates.

How Can BDNF Help With Treatment?

It also appears that BDNF supports angiogenesis in pleural effusions, meaning that they might be able to target BDNF with targeted therapies to stop it from assisting in supplying blood to mesothelioma cells. What this means is that the researchers discovered that BDNF helps the tumor create more blood vessels, which cancer cells then use to maintain their growth.

They also learned that if a patient is given an anti-BDNF blocking antibody, or medicine that prevents BDNF from sending messages, the amount of new blood vessel formation was reduced by about 31%.

This knowledge can potentially lead to new treatment methods. Now that researchers have a new protein to target, they can find new ways to stop it from sending messages and forming new blood vessels, which will help starve the tumor of blood and it will die.

However, before researchers can figure out an effective treatment, they will need to do a bit more research into what other factors are causing angiogenesis. They currently suspect that it has something to do with the correlation or connection between BDNF and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which is another protein that encourages angiogenesis, but more work needs to be done to confirm this.

Finding additional mesothelioma biomarkers, such as BDNF, can potentially lead to important breakthroughs in early mesothelioma detection and the development of targeted therapies—both of which are greatly needed in the quest to find an eventual cure.


View Author and Sources

  1. Smeele, P. (2018). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a new soluble biomarker for malignant pleural mesothelioma involved in angiogenesis. Molecular Cancer 17(148). Retrieved from: Accessed October 15, 2018.

Last modified: November 9, 2018