The concept that solid tumors are maintained by a productive interplay between neoplastic and non-neoplastic elements has gained traction with the demonstration that stromal fibroblasts and immune system cells dictate cancer development and progression. While less studied, brain tumor (glioma) biology is likewise influenced by non-neoplastic immune system cells (macrophages and microglia) which interact with neoplastic glioma cells to create a unique physiological state (glioma ecosystem) distinct from that found in the normal tissue. To explore this neoplastic ground state, we leveraged several preclinical mouse models of neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) optic glioma, a low-grade astrocytoma whose formation and maintenance requires productive interactions between non-neoplastic and neoplastic cells, and employed whole tumor RNA-sequencing and mathematical deconvolution strategies to characterize this low-grade glioma ecosystem as an aggregate of cellular and acellular elements. Using this approach, we demonstrate that optic gliomas generated by altering the germline Nf1 gene mutation, the glioma cell of origin, or the presence of co-existing genetic alterations represent molecularly-distinct tumors. However, these optic glioma tumors share a 25-gene core signature, not found in normal optic nerve, that is normalized by microglia inhibition (minocycline), but not conventional (carboplatin) or molecularly-targeted (rapamycin) chemotherapy. Lastly, we identify a genetic signature conferred by Pten reduction and corrected by PI3K inhibition. This signature predicts progression-free survival in patients with either low-grade or high-grade glioma. Collectively, these findings support the concept that gliomas are composite ecological systems whose biology and response to therapy may be best defined by examining the tumor as a whole.
- Glioma stem cell