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Painfully Nervous

Macrophage to neuron-like cell transition – a mechanism underlying cancer pain

01 December 2022

Painfully Nervous

Cancer often causes pain, reducing a person's quality of life and even their chances of survival. Recent studies have shown that tumours can attract nerves to grow around and through them. Although this process is linked to poor outcomes, we don't understand how it happens or affects cancer pain. Here, we see cells in a tumour from a mouse with lung cancer – the colours describe each type of cell and its history. The yellow and orange cells behave like neurons but used to be macrophages, a type of immune system cell. Researchers discovered for the first time that macrophages in tumours can go through this transition. Transferring these neuron-like cells into mice with cancer increased their pain responses, suggesting they have a pivotal role in cancer pain. The scientists also identified a key protein involved in the transition – finding drugs to block it could provide relief for cancer patients.

Written by Henry Stennett

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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