Neurotrophin Signaling via TrkB and TrkC Receptors Promotes the Growth of Brain Tumor-initiating Cells

Samuel Lawn, Niveditha Krishna, Alexandra Pisklakova, Xiaotao Qu, David A. Fenstermacher, Michelle Fournier, Frank D. Vrionis, Nam Tran, Jennifer A. Chan, Rajappa S. Kenchappa, Peter A. Forsyth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Neurotrophins and their receptors are frequently expressed in malignant gliomas, yet their functions are largely unknown. Previously, we have shown that p75 neurotrophin receptor is required for glioma invasion and proliferation. However, the role of Trk receptors has not been examined. In this study, we investigated the importance of TrkB and TrkC in survival of brain tumor-initiating cells (BTICs). Here, we show that human malignant glioma tissues and also tumor-initiating cells isolated from fresh human malignant gliomas express the neurotrophin receptors TrkB and TrkC, not TrkA, and they also express neurotrophins NGF, BDNF, and neurotrophin 3 (NT3). Specific activation of TrkB and TrkC receptors by ligands BDNF and NT3 enhances tumor-initiating cell viability through activation of ERK and Akt pathways. Conversely, TrkB and TrkC knockdown or pharmacologic inhibition of Trk signaling decreases neurotrophin-dependent ERK activation and BTIC growth. Further, pharmacological inhibition of both ERK and Akt pathways blocked BDNF, and NT3 stimulatedBTIC survival. Importantly, attenuation of BTIC growth by EGFR inhibitors could be overcome by activation of neurotrophin signaling, and neurotrophin signaling is sufficient for long term BTIC growth as spheres in the absence of EGF and FGF. Our results highlight a novel role for neurotrophin signaling in brain tumor and suggest that Trks could be a target for combinatorial treatment of malignant glioma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3814-3824
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biological Chemistry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 6 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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