Glioma invasion in the central nervous system

Neurosurgery. 1996 Aug;39(2):235-50; discussion 250-2. doi: 10.1097/00006123-199608000-00001.


Invading glioma cells seem to follow distinct anatomic structures within the central nervous system. Tumor cell dissemination may occur along structures, such as the basement membranes of blood vessels or the glial limitans externa, that contain extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins. Frequently, invasive glioma cells are also found to migrate along myelinated fiber tracts of white matter. This behavior is most likely a consequence of using constitutive extracellular ligands expressed along the pathways of preferred dissemination. The extracellular space in anatomic structures, such as blood vessel basement membranes or between myelinated axons, is profoundly different, thus suggesting that glioma cells may be able to use a multiplicity of matrix ligands, possibly activating separate mechanisms for invasion. In addition, enzymatic modification of the extracellular space or deposition of ECM by the tumor cells may also create a more permissive environment for tumor spread into the adjacent brain. Tumor cell invasion is defined as translocation of neoplastic cells through host cellular and ECM barriers. This process has been studied in other cancers, in which a cascade of events has been described that involves receptor-mediated matrix adhesion, degradation of matrix by tumor-secreted metalloproteinases, and, subsequently, active cell locomotion into the newly created space. Although some of these mechanisms may play an important role in glioma invasion, there are some significant differences that are mainly the result of the profoundly different composition of the extracellular environment within the brain. This review focuses on the composition of central nervous system ECM and the recent evidence for the use by glioma cells of multiple invasion mechanisms in response to this unique environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System / pathology
  • Central Nervous System Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / physiology
  • Glioma / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Metalloendopeptidases / physiology
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness
  • Neoplastic Cells, Circulating
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology
  • Receptors, Cytoadhesin / physiology


  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Receptors, Cytoadhesin
  • Metalloendopeptidases