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While it's widely held that tumors can produce blood vessels to support their growth, scientists now have evidence that cells key to blood vessel formation can also produce tumors and enable their spread.
Pericytes are strong contractile cells that form the initial outer layer that gives shape and strength to a developing blood vessel. They also are stem-cell like in that they can make many different kinds of tissue. GT198 is a gene normally expressed in low levels in our bodies and known for its natural ability to repair DNA and regulate stem cells, but can become an oncogene when mutated.Scientists have now found abnormally high levels of GT198 in the pericytes of the vascular network supporting a wide variety of human tumors. When activated, GT198 was also oddly located in the pericytes' cytoplasm rather than the nucleus.Production of new blood vessels normally occurs during development and to help repair injuries. Cancer hijacks this normal biological response to support its growth. Normally, the endothelial cells that line blood vessels are laid down, then contractile pericytes arrive to encompass the endothelial cells to stabilize them and form the exterior layer of blood vessels. Over time, pericytes develop into even sturdier smooth muscle cells.
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