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At the Crossroads Between Neurodegeneration and Cancer: A Review of Overlapping Biology and Its Implications

[ Vol. 11 , Issue. 2 ]


Alexander L. Houck, Sahba Seddighi and Jane A. Driver*   Pages 77 - 89 ( 13 )


Background: A growing body of epidemiologic evidence suggests that neurodegenerative diseases occur less frequently in cancer survivors, and vice versa. While unusual, this inverse comorbidity is biologically plausible and could be explained, in part, by the evolutionary tradeoffs made by neurons and cycling cells to optimize the performance of their very different functions. The two cell types utilize the same proteins and pathways in different, and sometimes opposite, ways. However, cancer and neurodegeneration also share many pathophysiological features.

Objective: In this review, we compare three overlapping aspects of neurodegeneration and cancer.

Method: First, we contrast the priorities and tradeoffs of dividing cells and neurons and how these manifest in disease. Second, we consider the hallmarks of biological aging that underlie both neurodegeneration and cancer. Finally, we utilize information from genetic databases to outline specific genes and pathways common to both diseases.

Conclusion: We argue that a detailed understanding of the biologic and genetic relationships between cancer and neurodegeneration can guide future efforts in designing disease-modifying therapeutic interventions. Lastly, strategies that target aging may prevent or delay both conditions.


Aging, neurodegeneration, carcinogenesis, trade-offs, hallmarks, neurons, dividing cells.


College of Medicine, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, TN, Clinical and Translational Neuroscience Unit, Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience, National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Baltimore, MD, Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center, VA Boston Healthcare System and the Division of Aging, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School (J.A.D.), Boston, MA

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