Cell and Tissue Research

, Volume 331, Issue 1, pp 225–241 | Cite as

TGF-beta in neural stem cells and in tumors of the central nervous system

  • Ludwig AignerEmail author
  • Ulrich Bogdahn


Mechanisms that regulate neural stem cell activity in the adult brain are tightly coordinated. They provide new neurons and glia in regions associated with high cellular and functional plasticity, after injury, or during neurodegeneration. Because of the proliferative and plastic potential of neural stem cells, they are currently thought to escape their physiological control mechanisms and transform to cancer stem cells. Signals provided by proteins of the transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta family might represent a system by which neural stem cells are controlled under physiological conditions but released from this control after transformation to cancer stem cells. TGF-beta is a multifunctional cytokine involved in various physiological and patho-physiological processes of the brain. It is induced in the adult brain after injury or hypoxia and during neurodegeneration when it modulates and dampens inflammatory responses. After injury, although TGF-beta is neuroprotective, it may limit the self-repair of the brain by inhibiting neural stem cell proliferation. Similar to its effect on neural stem cells, TGF-beta reveals anti-proliferative control on most cell types; however, paradoxically, many brain tumors escape from TGF-beta control. Moreover, brain tumors develop mechanisms that change the anti-proliferative influence of TGF-beta into oncogenic cues, mainly by orchestrating a multitude of TGF-beta-mediated effects upon matrix, migration and invasion, angiogenesis, and, most importantly, immune escape mechanisms. Thus, TGF-beta is involved in tumor progression. This review focuses on TGF-beta and its role in the regulation and control of neural and of brain-cancer stem cells.


Neurogenesis Smad signaling Cancer Stem cells Immune system Brain 



The authors thank Peter Hau for his input on TGF-beta and brain tumors, and Claudia Karl for editorial assistance.


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© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of NeurologyUniversity of RegensburgRegensburgGermany

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