Medulloblastoma uses GABA transaminase to survive in the cerebrospinal fluid microenvironment and promote leptomeningeal dissemination

Vahan Martirosian, Krutika Deshpande, Hao Zhou, Keyue Shen, Kyle Smith, Paul Northcott, Michelle Lin, Vazgen Stepanosyan, Diganta Das, Jan Remsik, Danielle Isakov, Adrienne Boire, Henk De Feyter, Kyle Hurth, Shaobo Li, Joseph Wiemels, Brooke Nakamura, Ling Shao, Camelia Danilov, Thomas ChenJosh Neman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Medulloblastoma (MB) is a malignant pediatric brain tumor arising in the cerebellum. Although abnormal GABAergic receptor activation has been described in MB, studies have not yet elucidated the contribution of receptor-independent GABA metabolism to MB pathogenesis. We find primary MB tumors globally display decreased expression of GABA transaminase (ABAT), the protein responsible for GABA metabolism, compared with normal cerebellum. However, less aggressive WNT and SHH subtypes express higher ABAT levels compared with metastatic G3 and G4 tumors. We show that elevated ABAT expression results in increased GABA catabolism, decreased tumor cell proliferation, and induction of metabolic and histone characteristics mirroring GABAergic neurons. Our studies suggest ABAT expression fluctuates depending on metabolite changes in the tumor microenvironment, with nutrient-poor conditions upregulating ABAT expression. We find metastatic MB cells require ABAT to maintain viability in the metabolite-scarce cerebrospinal fluid by using GABA as an energy source substitute, thereby facilitating leptomeningeal metastasis formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109302
JournalCell reports
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jun 29 2021


  • ABAT
  • GABA shunt
  • cerebrospinal fluid
  • leptomeningeal disease
  • medulloblastoma
  • oxidative phosphorylation
  • tumor dormancy
  • tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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