Journal of Biology paper shows that in mice 5-FU kills oligodendrocytes and the stem cells that create them six months after exposure.
Chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) causes healthy brain cells to die off long after treatment has ended and may be one of the underlying biological causes of the cognitive side effects, or chemo brain, that many patients experience, according to a group of researchers.
The scientists exposed both individual cell populations and mice to doses of 5-FU in amounts comparable to those used in cancer patients. They discovered that months after exposure, specific populations of cells in the central nervous system, oligodendrocytes, and the stem cells from which they are generated all but disappeared after six months.
Oligodendrocytes are responsible for producing myelin, which enables signals between cells to be transmitted rapidly and efficiently. Without a healthy population of oligodendrocytes, these membranes cannot be renewed. These findings parallel observations of MRI scans of cancer survivors with cognitive difficulties, according to the scientists.
The research was conducted by investigators at University of Rochester Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. The study is published on April 22 in the Journal of Biology.