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1.  Differential inhibitor sensitivity of anaplastic lymphoma kinase variants found in neuroblastoma 
Science Translational Medicine  2011;3(108):108ra114.
Activating mutations in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene were recently discovered in neuroblastoma, a cancer of the developing autonomic nervous system that is the most commonly diagnosed malignancy in the first year of life. The most frequent ALK mutations in neuroblastoma cause amino acid substitutions (F1174L and R1275Q) in the intracellular tyrosine kinase domain of the intact ALK receptor. Identification of ALK as an oncogenic driver in neuroblastoma suggests that crizotinib (PF-02341066), a dual-specific inhibitor of the ALK and Met tyrosine kinases, will be useful in treating this malignancy. Here, we assessed the ability of crizotinib to inhibit proliferation of neuroblastoma cell lines and xenografts expressing mutated or wild-type ALK. Crizotinib inhibited proliferation of cell lines expressing R1275Q-mutated ALK and a cell line with amplified and overexpressed wild-type ALK. By contrast, cell lines harboring F1174L-mutated ALK were relatively resistant to crizotinib. Biochemical analyses revealed that this reduced susceptibility of F1174L-mutated ALK to crizotinib inhibition results from an increased ATP-binding affinity (as also seen in acquired resistance to EGFR inhibitors), and should be surmountable with higher doses of crizotinib and/or with higher affinity inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3319004  PMID: 22072639
2.  Identification of ALK as the Major Familial Neuroblastoma Predisposition Gene 
Nature  2008;455(7215):930-935.
Survival rates for the childhood cancer neuroblastoma have not substantively improved despite dramatic escalation in chemotherapy intensity. Like most human cancers, this embryonal malignancy can be inherited, but the genetic etiology of familial and sporadically occurring neuroblastoma was largely unknown. Here we show that germline mutations in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase gene (ALK) explain the majority of hereditary neuroblastomas, and that activating mutations can also be somatically acquired. We first identified a significant linkage signal at the short arm of chromosome 2 (maximum nonparametric LOD=4.23 at rs1344063) using a whole-genome scan in neuroblastoma pedigrees. Resequencing of regional candidate genes identified three separate missense mutations in the tyrosine kinase domain of ALK (G1128A, R1192P and R1275Q) that segregated with the disease in eight separate families. Examination of 491 sporadically occurring human neuroblastoma samples showed that the ALK locus was gained in 22.8%, and highly amplified in an additional 3.3%, and that these aberrations were highly associated with death from disease (P=0.0003). Resequencing of 194 high-risk neuroblastoma samples showed somatically acquired mutations within the tyrosine kinase domain in 12.4%. Nine of the ten mutations map to critical regions of the kinase domain and were predicted to be oncogenic drivers with high probability. Mutations resulted in constitutive phosphorylation consistent with activation, and targeted knockdown of ALK mRNA resulted in profound growth inhibition of 4 of 4 cell lines harboring mutant or amplified ALK, as well as 2 of 6 wild type for ALK. Our results demonstrate that heritable mutations of ALK are the major cause of familial neuroblastoma, and that germline or acquired activation of this cell surface kinase is a tractable therapeutic target for this lethal pediatric malignancy.
PMCID: PMC2672043  PMID: 18724359
3.  Antibody targeting of anaplastic lymphoma kinase induces cytotoxicity of human neuroblastoma 
Oncogene  2012;31(46):4859-4867.
Anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) is a receptor tyrosine kinase aberrantly expressed in neuroblastoma, a devastating pediatric cancer of the sympathetic nervous system. Germline and somatically acquired ALK aberrations induce increased autophosphorylation, constitutive ALK activation and increased downstream signaling. Thus, ALK is a tractable therapeutic target in neuroblastoma, likely to be susceptible to both small-molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors and therapeutic antibodies–as has been shown for other receptor tyrosine kinases in malignancies such as breast and lung cancer. Small-molecule inhibitors of ALK are currently being studied in the clinic, but common ALK mutations in neuroblastoma appear to show de novo insensitivity, arguing that complementary therapeutic approaches must be developed. We therefore hypothesized that antibody targeting of ALK may be a relevant strategy for the majority of neuroblastoma patients likely to have ALK-positive tumors. We show here that an antagonistic ALK antibody inhibits cell growth and induces in vitro antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity of human neuroblastoma-derived cell lines. Cytotoxicity was induced in cell lines harboring either wild type or mutated forms of ALK. Treatment of neuroblastoma cells with the dual Met/ALK inhibitor crizotinib sensitized cells to antibody-induced growth inhibition by promoting cell surface accumulation of ALK and thus increasing the accessibility of antigen for antibody binding. These data support the concept of ALK-targeted immunotherapy as a highly promising therapeutic strategy for neuroblastomas with mutated or wild-type ALK.
PMCID: PMC3730824  PMID: 22266870
neuroblastoma; anaplastic lymphoma kinase; immunotherapy; receptor tyrosine kinase
4.  Cell culture and Drosophila model systems define three classes of anaplastic lymphoma kinase mutations in neuroblastoma 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2012;6(2):373-382.
Neuroblastoma is a childhood extracranial solid tumour that is associated with a number of genetic changes. Included in these genetic alterations are mutations in the kinase domain of the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK), which have been found in both somatic and familial neuroblastoma. In order to treat patients accordingly requires characterisation of these mutations in terms of their response to ALK tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs). Here, we report the identification and characterisation of two novel neuroblastoma ALK mutations (A1099T and R1464STOP), which we have investigated together with several previously reported but uncharacterised ALK mutations (T1087I, D1091N, T1151M, M1166R, F1174I and A1234T). In order to understand the potential role of these ALK mutations in neuroblastoma progression, we have employed cell culture-based systems together with the model organism Drosophila as a readout for ligand-independent activity. Mutation of ALK at position 1174 (F1174I) generates a gain-of-function receptor capable of activating intracellular targets such as ERK (extracellular signal regulated kinase) and STAT3 (signal transducer and activator of transcription 3) in a ligand-independent manner. Analysis of these previously uncharacterised ALK mutants and comparison with ALKF1174 mutants suggests that ALK mutations observed in neuroblastoma fall into three classes. These classes are: (i) gain-of-function ligand-independent mutations such as ALKF1174l, (ii) kinase-dead ALK mutants, e.g. ALKI1250T (Schönherr et al., 2011a) and (iii) ALK mutations that are ligand-dependent in nature. Irrespective of the nature of the observed ALK mutants, in every case the activity of the mutant ALK receptors could be abrogated by the ALK inhibitor crizotinib (Xalkori/PF-02341066), albeit with differing levels of sensitivity.
PMCID: PMC3597019  PMID: 23104988
5.  Emerging importance of ALK in neuroblastoma 
Seminars in cancer biology  2011;21(4):267-275.
Since the original descriptions of gain-of function mutations in anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK), interest in the role of this receptor tyrosine kinase in neuroblastoma development and as a potential therapeutic target has escalated. As a group, the activating point mutations in full-length ALK, found in approximately 8% of all neuroblastoma tumors, are distributed evenly across different clinical stages. However, the most frequent somatic mutation, F1174L, is associated with amplification of the MYCN oncogene. This combination of features appears to confer a worse prognosis than MYCN amplification alone, suggesting a cooperative effect on neuroblastoma formation by these two proteins. Indeed, F1174L has shown more potent transforming activity in vivo than the second most common activating mutation, R1275Q, and is responsible for innate and acquired resistance to crizotinib, a clinically relevant ALK inhibitor that will soon be commercially available. These advances cast ALK as a bona fide oncoprotein in neuroblastoma and emphasize the need to understand ALK-mediated signaling in this tumor. This review addresses many of the current issues surrounding the role of ALK in normal development and neuroblastoma pathogenesis, and discusses the prospects for clinically effective targeted treatments based on ALK inhibition.
PMCID: PMC3242371  PMID: 21945349
neuroblastoma; ALK; tyrosine kinase receptor; targeted therapy; crizotinib; drug resistance; point mutations; small molecule inhibitors; combination treatment
6.  Inhibition of N-linked glycosylation impairs ALK phosphorylation and disrupts pro-survival signaling in neuroblastoma cell lines 
BMC Cancer  2011;11:525.
The Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase (ALK) is an orphan receptor tyrosine kinase, which undergoes post-translational N-linked glycosylation. The catalytic domain of ALK was originally identified in the t(2;5) translocation that produces the unglycosylated oncogenic protein NPM-ALK, which occurs in Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL). Recently, both germline and somatic activating missense mutations of ALK have been identified in neuroblastoma (NB), a pediatric cancer arising from neural crest cells. Moreover, we previously reported that ALK expression is significantly upregulated in advanced/metastatic NB. We hypothesized that ALK function may depend on N-linked glycosylation and that disruption of this post-translational modification would impair ALK activation, regardless the presence of either gene mutations or overexpression.
We employed tunicamycin to inhibit N-linked glycosylation. The following ALK-positive NB cell lines were used: SH-SY5Y and KELLY (ALK mutation F1174L), UKF-NB3 (ALK mutation R1275Q) and NB1 (ALK amplification). As a control, we used the NB cell lines LA1-5S and NB5 (no ALK expression), and the ALCL cell line SU-DHL1 (NPM-ALK).
Tunicamycin treatment of ALK-positive NB cells resulted in a hypoglycosylated ALK band and in decreased amounts of mature full size receptor. Concomitantly, we observed a marked reduction of mature ALK phosphorylation. On the contrary, tunicamycin had no effects on NPM-ALK phosphorylation in SU-DHL1 cells. Moreover, phosphorylation levels of ALK downstream effectors (AKT, ERK1/2, STAT3) were clearly impaired only in ALK mutated/amplified NB cell lines, whereas no significant reduction was observed in both ALK-negative and NPM-ALK-positive cell lines. Furthermore, inhibition of N-linked glycosylation considerably impaired cell viability only of ALK mutated/amplified NB cells. Finally, the cleavage of the Poly-ADP-ribose-polymerase (PARP) suggested that apoptotic pathways may be involved in cell death.
In this study we showed that inhibition of N-linked glycosylation affects ALK phosphorylation and disrupts downstream pro-survival signaling, indicating that inhibition of this post-translational modification may be a promising therapeutic approach. However, as tunicamycin is not a likely candidate for clinical use other approaches to alter N-linked glycosylation need to be explored. Future studies will assess whether the efficacy in inhibiting ALK activity might be enhanced by the combination of ALK specific small molecule and N-linked glycosylation inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC3267831  PMID: 22192458
7.  Targeting ALK in neuroblastoma—preclinical and clinical advancements 
Despite improvements in cancer therapies in the past 50 years, neuroblastoma remains a devastating clinical problem and a leading cause of childhood cancer deaths. Advances in treatments for children with high-risk neuroblastoma have, until recently, involved addition of cytotoxic therapy to dose-intensive regimens. In this era of targeted therapies, substantial efforts have been made to identify optimal targets for different types of cancer. The discovery of hereditary and somatic activating mutations in the oncogene ALK has now placed neuroblastoma among other cancers, such as melanoma and non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which benefit from therapies with oncogene-specific small-molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Crizotinib, a small-molecule inhibitor of ALK, has transformed the landscape for the treatment of NSCLC harbouring ALK translocations and has demonstrated activity in preclinical models of ALK-driven neuroblastomas. However, inhibition of mutated ALK is complex when compared with translocated ALK and remains a therapeutic challenge. This Review discusses the biology of ALK in the development of neuroblastoma, preclinical and clinical progress with the use of ALK inhibitors and immunotherapy, challenges associated with resistance to such therapies and the steps being taken to overcome some of these hurdles.
PMCID: PMC3683972  PMID: 22585002
8.  The Neuroblastoma ALK(I1250T) Mutation Is a Kinase-Dead RTK In Vitro and In Vivo12 
Translational Oncology  2011;4(4):258-265.
Activating mutations in the kinase domain of anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) have recently been shown to be an important determinant in the genetics of the childhood tumor neuroblastoma. Here we discuss an in-depth analysis of one of the reported gain-of-function ALK mutations—ALKI1250T—identified in the germ line DNA of one patient. Our analyses were performed in cell culture-based systems and subsequently confirmed in a Drosophila model. The results presented here indicate that the germ line ALKI1250T mutation is most probably not a determinant for tumor initiation or progression and, in contrast, seems to generate a kinase-dead mutation in the ALK receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK). Consistent with this, stimulation with agonist ALK antibodies fails to lead to stimulation of ALKI1250T and we were unable to detect tyrosine phosphorylation under any circumstances. In agreement, ALKI1250T is unable to activate downstream signaling pathways or to mediate neurite outgrowth, in contrast to the activated wild-type ALK receptor or the activating ALKF1174S mutant. Identical results were obtained when the ALKI1250T mutant was expressed in a Drosophila model, confirming the lack of activity of this mutant ALK RTK. We suggest that the ALKI1250T mutation leads to a kinase-dead ALK RTK, in stark contrast to assumed gain-of-function status, with significant implications for patients reported to carry this particular ALK mutation.
PMCID: PMC3140014  PMID: 21804922
9.  Internalization and Down-Regulation of the ALK Receptor in Neuroblastoma Cell Lines upon Monoclonal Antibodies Treatment 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33581.
Recently, activating mutations of the full length ALK receptor, with two hot spots at positions F1174 and R1275, have been characterized in sporadic cases of neuroblastoma. Here, we report similar basal patterns of ALK phosphorylation between the neuroblastoma IMR-32 cell line, which expresses only the wild-type receptor (ALKWT), and the SH-SY5Y cell line, which exhibits a heterozygous ALK F1174L mutation and expresses both ALKWT and ALKF1174L receptors. We demonstrate that this lack of detectable increased phosphorylation in SH-SY5Y cells is a result of intracellular retention and proteasomal degradation of the mutated receptor. As a consequence, in SH-SY5Y cells, plasma membrane appears strongly enriched for ALKWT whereas both ALKWT and ALKF1174L were present in intracellular compartments. We further explored ALK receptor trafficking by investigating the effect of agonist and antagonist mAb (monoclonal antibodies) on ALK internalization and down-regulation, either in SH-SY5Y cells or in cells expressing only ALKWT. We observe that treatment with agonist mAbs resulted in ALK internalization and lysosomal targeting for receptor degradation. In contrast, antagonist mAb induced ALK internalization and recycling to the plasma membrane. Importantly, we correlate this differential trafficking of ALK in response to mAb with the recruitment of the ubiquitin ligase Cbl and ALK ubiquitylation only after agonist stimulation. This study provides novel insights into the mechanisms regulating ALK trafficking and degradation, showing that various ALK receptor pools are regulated by proteasome or lysosome pathways according to their intracellular localization.
PMCID: PMC3316580  PMID: 22479414
10.  Phosphoproteomic analysis of anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) downstream signaling pathways identifies signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 as a functional target of activated ALK in neuroblastoma cells 
The Febs Journal  2013;280(21):5269-5282.
Activation of the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) receptor tyrosine kinase is a key oncogenic mechanism in a growing number of tumor types. In the majority of cases, ALK is activated by fusion with a dimerizing partner protein as a result of chromosomal translocation events, most studied in the case of the nucleophosmin–ALK and echinoderm microtubule-associated protein-like 4–ALK oncoproteins. It is now also appreciated that the full-length ALK receptor can be activated by point mutations and by deletions within the extracellular domain, such as those observed in neuroblastoma. Several studies have employed phosphoproteomics approaches to find substrates of ALK fusion proteins. In this study, we used MS-based phosphotyrosine profiling to characterize phosphotyrosine signaling events associated with the full-length ALK receptor. A number of previously identified and novel targets were identified. One of these, signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3), has previously been observed to be activated in response to oncogenic ALK signaling, but the significance of this in signaling from the full-length ALK receptor has not been explored further. We show here that activated ALK robustly activates STAT3 on Tyr705 in a number of independent neuroblastoma cell lines. Furthermore, knockdown of STAT3 by RNA interference resulted in a reduction in myelocytomatosis neuroblastom (MYCN) protein levels downstream of ALK signaling. These observations, together with a decreased level of MYCN and inhibition of neuroblastoma cell growth in the presence of STAT3 inhibitors, suggest that activation of STAT3 is important for ALK signaling activity in neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC3892176  PMID: 23889739
anaplastic lymphoma kinase; cancer; neuroblastoma; SHP-2; signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3)
11.  The neuroblastoma associated F1174L ALK mutation causes resistance to an ALK kinase inhibitor in ALK translocated cancers 
Cancer research  2010;70(24):10038-10043.
The ALK kinase inhibitor crizotinib (PF-02341066) is clinically effective in patients with ALK-translocated cancers, but its efficacy will ultimately be limited by acquired drug resistance. Here we report the identification of a secondary mutation in ALK, F1174L, as one cause of crizotinib resistance in a patient with an inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor (IMT) harbouring a RANBP2-ALK translocation who progressed while crizotinib therapy. When present in cis with an ALK translocation, this mutation (also detected in neuroblastomas) causes an increase in ALK phosphorylation, cell growth and downstream signaling. Furthermore, the F1174L mutation inhibits crizotinib mediated downregulation of ALK signaling and blocks apoptosis in RANBP2-ALK Ba/F3 cells. A chemically distinct ALK inhibitor, TAE684, or the HSP90 inhibitor 17-AAG are both effective in models harbouring the F1174L ALK mutation. Our findings highlight the importance of studying drug resistance mechanisms in order to develop effective clinical treatments for patients with ALK-translocated cancers.
PMCID: PMC3045808  PMID: 21030459
Inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor; Anaplastic lymphoma kinase; kinase inhibitor; drug resistance
12.  Anaplastic lymphoma kinase: role in cancer pathogenesis and small-molecule inhibitor development for therapy 
Anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK), a receptor tyrosine kinase in the insulin receptor superfamily, was initially identified in constitutively activated oncogenic fusion forms – the most common being nucleophosmin-ALK – in anaplastic large-cell lymphomas, and subsequent studies have identified ALK fusions in diffuse large B-cell lymphomas, systemic histiocytosis, inflammatory myofibroblastic tumors, esophageal squamous cell carcinomas and non-small-cell lung carcinomas. More recently, genomic DNA amplification and protein overexpression, as well as activating point mutations, of ALK have been described in neuroblastomas. In addition to those cancers for which a causative role for aberrant ALK activity is well validated, more circumstantial links implicate the full-length, normal ALK receptor in the genesis of other malignancies – including glioblastoma and breast cancer – via a mechanism of receptor activation involving autocrine and/or paracrine growth loops with the reported ALK ligands, pleiotrophin and midkine. This review summarizes normal ALK biology, the confirmed and putative roles of ALK in the development of human cancers and efforts to target ALK using small-molecule kinase inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC2780428  PMID: 19275511
anaplastic large-cell lymphoma; anaplastic lymphoma kinase; esophageal squamous cell carcinoma; glioblastoma; inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor; midkine; neuroblastoma; non-small-cell lung carcinoma; pleiotrophin; targeted cancer therapy; tyrosine kinase inhibitor
13.  Discovery of 3,5-Diamino-1,2,4-triazole Ureas as Potent Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase Inhibitors 
ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters  2011;2(5):379-384.
A series of novel 3,5-diamino-1,2,4-triazole benzyl ureas was identified as having potent anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) inhibition exemplified by 15a, 20a, and 23a, which exhibited antiproliferative IC50 values of 70, 40, and 20 nM in Tel-ALK transformed Ba/F3 cells, respectively. Moreover, 15a and 23a potently inhibited the growth and survival of NPM-ALK positive anaplastic large cell lymphoma cell (SU-DHL-1) and neuroblastoma cell lines (KELLY, SH-SY5Y) containing the F1174L ALK mutation. These compounds provide novel leads for the development of small-molecule ALK inhibitors for cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC3093683  PMID: 21572589
ALK; 3,5-diamino-1,2,4-triazole urea
14.  Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase Is Required for Neurogenesis in the Developing Central Nervous System of Zebrafish 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(5):e63757.
Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase (ALK) was initially discovered as an oncogene in human lymphoma and other cancers, including neuroblastoma. However, little is known about the physiological function of ALK. We identified the alk ortholog in zebrafish (Danio rerio) and found that it is highly expressed in the developing central nervous system (CNS). Heat-shock inducible transgenic zebrafish lines were generated to over-express alk during early neurogenesis. Its ectopic expression resulted in activation of the MEK/ERK pathway, increased cell proliferation, and aberrant neurogenesis leading to mis-positioning of differentiated neurons. Thus, overexpressed alk is capable of promoting cell proliferation in the nervous system, similar to the situation in ALK-related cancers. Next, we used Morpholino mediated gene knock-down and a pharmacological inhibitor to interfere with expression and function of endogenous Alk. Alk inhibition did not affect neuron progenitor formation but severely compromised neuronal differentiation and neuron survival in the CNS. These data indicate that tightly controlled alk expression is critical for the balance between neural progenitor proliferation, differentiation and survival during embryonic neurogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3648509  PMID: 23667670
15.  Cooperative Cross-Talk between Neuroblastoma Subtypes Confers Resistance to Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase Inhibition 
Genes & Cancer  2011;2(5):538-549.
Neuroblastoma is a pediatric solid tumor that can be stratified into stroma-rich and stroma-poor histological subgroups. The stromal compartment of neuroblastoma is composed mostly of Schwann cells, and they play critical roles in the differentiation, survival, and angiogenic responses of tumor cells. In certain neuroblastoma cell lines, the coexistence of neuroblastic N-type and substrate-adherent S-type is frequently observed. One such cell line, SK-N-SH, harbors a F1174L oncogenic mutation in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene. Treatment of SK-N-SH with an ALK chemical inhibitor, TAE684, resulted in the outgrowth of S-type cells that expressed the Schwann cell marker, S100α6. Nucleotide sequencing analysis of these TAE684-resistant (TR) sublines revealed the presence of the ALK F1174L mutation, suggesting their tumor origin, although ALK protein was not detected. Consistent with these findings, TR cells displayed approximately 9-fold higher IC50 values than N-type cells. Also, unlike N-type cells, TR cells have readily detectable phosphorylated STAT3 but weaker phosphorylated AKT. Under coculture conditions, TR cells conferred survival to N-type cells against the apoptotic effect of TAE684. Cocultivation also greatly enhanced the overall phosphorylation of STAT3 and its transcriptional activity in N-type cells. Finally, conditioned medium from TR clones enhanced cell viability of N-type cells, and this effect was phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase dependent. Taken together, these results demonstrate the ability of tumor-derived S-type cells in protecting N-type cells against the apoptotic effect of an ALK kinase inhibitor through upregulating prosurvival signaling.
PMCID: PMC3161418  PMID: 21901167
neuroblastoma; ALK; TAE684; Schwann cells; stromal
16.  High-Resolution Array CGH Profiling Identifies Na/K Transporting ATPase Interacting 2 (NKAIN2) as a Predisposing Candidate Gene in Neuroblastoma 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e78481.
Neuroblastoma (NB), the most common solid cancer in early childhood, usually occurs sporadically but also its familial occurance is known in 1-2% of NB patients. Germline mutations in the ALK and PHOX2B genes have been found in a subset of familial NBs. However, because some individuals harbouring mutations in these genes do not develop this tumor, additional genetic alterations appear to be required for NB pathogenesis. Herein, we studied an Italian family with three NB patients, two siblings and a first cousin, carrying an ALK germline-activating mutation R1192P, that was inherited from their unaffected mothers and with no mutations in the PHOX2B gene. A comparison between somatic and germline DNA copy number changes in the two affected siblings by a high resolution array-based Comparative Genomic Hybridization (CGH) analysis revealed a germline gain at NKAIN2 (Na/K transporting ATPase interacting 2) locus in one of the sibling, that was inherited from the parent who does not carry the ALK mutation. Surprisingly, NKAIN2 was expressed at high levels also in the affected sibling that lacks the genomic gain at this locus, clearly suggesting the existance of other regulatory mechanisms. High levels of NKAIN2 were detected in the MYCN-amplified NB cell lines and in the most aggressive NB lesions as well as in the peripheral blood of a large cohort of NB patients. Consistent with a role of NKAIN2 in NB development, NKAIN2 was down-regulated during all-trans retinoic acid differentiation in two NB cell lines. Taken together, these data indicate a potential role of NKAIN2 gene in NB growth and differentiation.
PMCID: PMC3808344  PMID: 24205241
17.  Promising therapeutic targets in neuroblastoma 
Clinical Cancer Research  2012;18(10):2740-2753.
Neuroblastoma, the most common extra- cranial solid tumor in children, is derived from neural crest cells. Nearly half of patients present with metastatic disease, and have 5-year EFS of less than 50%. New approaches with targeted therapy may improve efficacy without increased toxicity. The current review will evaluate three promising targeted therapies, including 131I-metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG), a radiopharmaceutical taken up by the human norepinephrine transporter expressed in 90% of neuroblastomas, immunotherapy with monoclonal antibodies targeting the GD2 ganglioside, expressed on 98% of neuroblastoma cells, and inhibitors of ALK, a tyrosine kinase which is mutated or amplified in approximately 10% of neuroblastoma and expressed on the surface of most neuroblastoma cells. Early phase trials have confirmed the activity of 131I-MIBG in relapsed neuroblastoma, with response rates of about 30%, but the technical aspects of administration of large amounts of radioactivity in young children and the limited access have hindered incorporation into treatment of newly diagnosed patients. Anti-GD2 antibodies have also demonstrated activity in relapsed disease, and a recent phase III randomized trial showed a significant improvement in event-free survival for patients receiving chimeric anti-GD2 (ch14.18) combined with cytokines and isotretinoin after myeloablative consolidation therapy. A recently approved small molecule inhibitor of ALK has promising pre-clinical activity for neuroblastoma, and is currently in phase I and II trials. This is the first agent directed to a specific mutation in neuroblastoma, and marks a new step toward personalized therapy for neuroblastoma. Further clinical development of targeted treatments offers new hope for children with neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC3382042  PMID: 22589483
18.  The emerging molecular pathogenesis of neuroblastoma: implications for improved risk assessment and targeted therapy 
Genome Medicine  2009;1(7):74.
Neuroblastoma is one of the most common solid tumors of childhood, arising from immature sympathetic nervous system cells. The clinical course of patients with neuroblastoma is highly variable, ranging from spontaneous regression to widespread metastatic disease. Although the outcome for children with cancer has improved considerably during the past decades, the prognosis of children with aggressive neuroblastoma remains dismal. The clinical heterogeneity of neuroblastoma mirrors the biological and genetic heterogeneity of these tumors. Ploidy and MYCN amplification have been used as genetic markers for risk stratification and therapeutic decision making, and, more recently, gene expression profiling and genome-wide DNA copy number analysis have come into the picture as sensitive and specific tools for assessing prognosis. The applica tion of new genetic tools also led to the discovery of an important familial neuroblastoma cancer gene, ALK, which is mutated in approximately 8% of sporadic tumors, and genome-wide association studies have unveiled loci with risk alleles for neuroblastoma development. For some of the genomic regions that are deleted in some neuroblastomas, on 1p, 3p and 11q, candidate tumor suppressor genes have been identified. In addition, evidence has emerged for the contribution of epigenetic disturbances in neuroblastoma oncogenesis. As in other cancer entities, altered microRNA expression is also being recognized as an important player in neuroblastoma. The recent successes in unraveling the genetic basis of neuroblastoma are now opening opportunities for development of targeted therapies.
PMCID: PMC2717400  PMID: 19638189
19.  Activated ALK Collaborates with MYCN in Neuroblastoma Pathogenesis 
Cancer Cell  2012;21(3):362-373.
Amplification of the MYCN oncogene in childhood neuroblastoma is often accompanied by mutational activation of ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase), suggesting their pathogenic cooperation. We generated a transgenic zebrafish model of neuroblastoma in which MYCN-induced tumors arise from a subpopulation of neuroblasts that migrate into the adrenal medulla analogue following organogenesis. Coexpression of activated ALK with MYCN in this model triples the disease penetrance and markedly accelerates tumor onset. MYCN overexpression induces adrenal sympathetic neuroblast hyperplasia, blocks chromaffin cell differentiation, and ultimately triggers a developmentally-timed apoptotic response in the hyperplastic sympathoadrenal cells. Coexpression of activated ALK with MYCN provides prosurvival signals that block this apoptotic response and allow continued expansion and oncogenic transformation of hyperplastic neuroblasts, thus promoting progression to neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC3315700  PMID: 22439933
20.  PHOX2B-Mediated Regulation of ALK Expression: In Vitro Identification of a Functional Relationship between Two Genes Involved in Neuroblastoma 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(10):e13108.
Neuroblastoma (NB) is a severe pediatric tumor originating from neural crest derivatives and accounting for 15% of childhood cancer mortality. The heterogeneous and complex genetic etiology has been confirmed with the identification of mutations in two genes, encoding for the receptor tyrosine kinase Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase (ALK) and the transcription factor Paired-like Homeobox 2B (PHOX2B), in a limited proportion of NB patients. Interestingly, these two genes are overexpressed in the great majority of primary NB samples and cell lines. These observations led us to test the hypothesis of a regulatory or functional relationship between ALK and PHOX2B underlying NB pathogenesis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Following this possibility, we first confirmed a striking correlation between the transcription levels of ALK, PHOX2B and its direct target PHOX2A in a panel of NB cell lines. Then, we manipulated their expression in NB cell lines by siRNA-mediated knock-down and forced over-expression of each gene under analysis. Surprisingly, PHOX2B- and PHOX2A-directed siRNAs efficiently downregulated each other as well as ALK gene and, consistently, the enhanced expression of PHOX2B in NB cells yielded an increment of ALK protein. We finally demonstrated that PHOX2B drives ALK gene transcription by directly binding its promoter, which therefore represents a novel PHOX2B target.
These findings provide a compelling explanation of the concurrent involvement of these two genes in NB pathogenesis and are going to foster a better understanding of molecular interactions at the base of the disease. Moreover, this work opens new perspectives for NBs refractory to conventional therapies that may benefit from the design of novel therapeutic RNAi-based approaches for multiple gene targets.
PMCID: PMC2948505  PMID: 20957039
21.  Focal DNA Copy Number Changes in Neuroblastoma Target MYCN Regulated Genes 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e52321.
Neuroblastoma is an embryonic tumor arising from immature sympathetic nervous system cells. Recurrent genomic alterations include MYCN and ALK amplification as well as recurrent patterns of gains and losses of whole or large partial chromosome segments. A recent whole genome sequencing effort yielded no frequently recurring mutations in genes other than those affecting ALK. However, the study further stresses the importance of DNA copy number alterations in this disease, in particular for genes implicated in neuritogenesis. Here we provide additional evidence for the importance of focal DNA copy number gains and losses, which are predominantly observed in MYCN amplified tumors. A focal 5 kb gain encompassing the MYCN regulated miR-17∼92 cluster as sole gene was detected in a neuroblastoma cell line and further analyses of the array CGH data set demonstrated enrichment for other MYCN target genes in focal gains and amplifications. Next we applied an integrated genomics analysis to prioritize MYCN down regulated genes mediated by MYCN driven miRNAs within regions of focal heterozygous or homozygous deletion. We identified RGS5, a negative regulator of G-protein signaling implicated in vascular normalization, invasion and metastasis, targeted by a focal homozygous deletion, as a new MYCN target gene, down regulated through MYCN activated miRNAs. In addition, we expand the miR-17∼92 regulatory network controlling TGFß signaling in neuroblastoma with the ring finger protein 11 encoding gene RNF11, which was previously shown to be targeted by the miR-17∼92 member miR-19b. Taken together, our data indicate that focal DNA copy number imbalances in neuroblastoma (1) target genes that are implicated in MYCN signaling, possibly selected to reinforce MYCN oncogene addiction and (2) serve as a resource for identifying new molecular targets for treatment.
PMCID: PMC3537730  PMID: 23308108
22.  Mechanisms of Acquired Crizotinib Resistance in ALK-Rearranged Lung Cancers 
Science Translational Medicine  2012;4(120):120ra17.
Most anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK)–positive non–small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs) are highly responsive to treatment with ALK tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs). However, patients with these cancers invariably relapse, typically within 1 year, because of the development of drug resistance. Herein, we report findings from a series of lung cancer patients (n = 18) with acquired resistance to the ALK TKI crizotinib. In about one-fourth of patients, we identified a diverse array of secondary mutations distributed throughout the ALK TK domain, including new resistance mutations located in the solvent-exposed region of the adenosine triphosphate–binding pocket, as well as amplification of the ALK fusion gene. Next-generation ALK inhibitors, developed to overcome crizotinib resistance, had differing potencies against specific resistance mutations. In addition to secondary ALK mutations and ALK gene amplification, we also identified aberrant activation of other kinases including marked amplification of KIT and increased autophosphorylation of epidermal growth factor receptor in drug-resistant tumors from patients. In a subset of patients, we found evidence of multiple resistance mechanisms developing simultaneously. These results highlight the unique features of TKI resistance in ALK-positive NSCLCs and provide the rationale for pursuing combinatorial therapeutics that are tailored to the precise resistance mechanisms identified in patients who relapse on crizotinib treatment.
PMCID: PMC3385512  PMID: 22277784
23.  Increased ALK Gene Copy Number and Amplification are Frequent in Non-small Cell Lung Cancer 
Journal of Thoracic Oncology  2011;6(1):21-27.
Translocation of the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene is involved in the tumorigenesis of a subset of non-small cell lung carcinomas (NSCLCs) and identifies patients sensitive to ALK inhibitors. ALK copy number changes and amplification, which plays an oncogenic role in tumors such as neuroblastoma, are poorly characterized in NSCLC. We aimed to study the prevalence of ALK copy number changes and their correlation to ALK protein expression, epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) status, and clinicopathological data in patients with NSCLC.
ALK status was evaluated by fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). Specimens with ALK translocation were studied for echinoderm microtubule-associated protein-like 4 (EML4), KIF5B, and TFG status. ALK expression was assessed by immunohistochemistry. EGFR gene and protein status were evaluated in adenocarcinomas. Survival analysis was performed.
One hundred seven NSCLC cases were evaluated. There were two cases of EML4-ALK translocation and one with an atypical translocation of ALK. Both cases of EML4-ALK translocation had ALK protein expression, whereas in the rest, ALK was undetected. Eleven cases (10%) exhibited ALK amplification and 68 (63%) copy number gains. There was an association between ALK amplification and EGFR FISH positivity (p < 0.0001) but not with prognosis. In conclusion, EML4-ALK translocation is a rare event in NSCLC.
The study reveals a significant frequency of ALK amplification and its association with EGFR FISH positivity in lung adenocarcinomas. Based on these findings, a potential role of ALK amplification in the response to ALK inhibitors alone or combined with EGFR inhibitors in NSCLC merits further studies.
PMCID: PMC3359090  PMID: 21107285
ALK; Non-small cell lung cancer; Amplification; Translocation; Polysomy
24.  Identification and characterization of DAlk: a novel Drosophila melanogaster RTK which drives ERK activation in vivo 
The mammalian receptor protein tyrosine kinase (RTK), Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase (ALK), was first described as the product of the t(2;5)chromosomal translocation found in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While the mechanism of ALK activation in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has been examined, to date, no in vivo role for this orphan insulin receptorfamily RTK has been described.
We describe here a novel Drosophila melanogaster RTK, DAlk, which we have mapped to band 53on the right arm of the second chromosome. Fulllength DAlk cDNA encodes a phosphoprotein of 200 kDa, which shares homology not only with mammalian ALK but also with the orphan RTK LTK. Analysis of both mammalian and Drosophila ALK reveals that the ALK family of RTKs contains a newly identified MAM domain within their extra cellular domains. Like its mammalian counterpart, Dalk appears to be expressed in the developing CNS by in situ analysis. However, in addition to expression of DAlk in the Drosophila brain, careful analysis reveals anadditional early role for DAlk in the developing visceralmesoderm where its expression is coincident withactivated ERK.
In this paper we describe a Drosophila melanogaster Alk RTK which is expressed in the developing embryonic mesoderm and CNS. Our data provide evidence for the existence of a DAlk RTK pathway in Drosophila. We show that ERK participates in this pathway, and that it is activated by DAlk in vivo. Expression patterns of dALK, together with activated ERK, suggest that DAlk fulfils the criteria of the missing RTK pathway, leading to ERK activation in the developing visceral mesoderm.
PMCID: PMC1975818  PMID: 11442633
25.  Anaplastic lymphoma kinase: signalling in development and disease 
Biochemical Journal  2009;420(Pt 3):345-361.
RTKs (receptor tyrosine kinases) play important roles in cellular proliferation and differentiation. In addition, RTKs reveal oncogenic potential when their kinase activities are constitutively enhanced by point mutation, amplification or rearrangement of the corresponding genes. The ALK (anaplastic lymphoma kinase) RTK was originally identified as a member of the insulin receptor subfamily of RTKs that acquires transforming capability when truncated and fused to NPM (nucleophosmin) in the t(2;5) chromosomal rearrangement associated with ALCL (anaplastic large cell lymphoma). To date, many chromosomal rearrangements leading to enhanced ALK activity have been described and are implicated in a number of cancer types. Recent reports of the EML4 (echinoderm microtubule-associated protein like 4)–ALK oncoprotein in NSCLC (non-small cell lung cancer), together with the identification of activating point mutations in neuroblastoma, have highlighted ALK as a significant player and target for drug development in cancer. In the present review we address the role of ALK in development and disease and discuss implications for the future.
PMCID: PMC2708929  PMID: 19459784
anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK); anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL); extracellular-signal-regulated kinase (ERK); inflammatory myofibroblastic tumour (IMT); midkine; neuroblastoma; non-small cell lung cancer (NSLCL); pleiotrophin; ALCL, anaplastic large cell lymphoma; ALK, anaplastic lymphoma kinase; ALO17, ALK lymphoma oligomerization partner on chromosome 17; ATIC, 5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleotide formyltransferase/IMP cyclohydrolase; BCR-Abl, breakpoint cluster region-Abl; CARS, cysteinyl-tRNA synthetase; Cdc42, cell division cycle 42; C/EBPβ, CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein β; CLTC, clathrin heavy chain; CML, chronic myeloid leukaemia; CNS, central nervous system; dALK, Drosophila ALK; DLBCL, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma; Dpp, decapentaplegic; DRG, dorsal root ganglia; EGFR, epidermal growth factor receptor; EML4, echinoderm microtubule-associated protein like 4; ERK, extracellular-signal-regulated kinase; FOXO3a, forkhead box O 3a; FRS2, fibroblast growth factor receptor substrate 2; GIST, gastrointestinal stromal tumour; Grb2, growthfactor-receptor-bound protein 2; HEK, human embryonic kidney; Hen-1, hesitation-1; IL-3, interleukin-3; IMT, inflammatory myofibroblastic tumour; IR, insulin receptor; IRS-1, IR substrate-1; JAK, Janus kinase; Jeb, jelly belly; JNK, c-Jun N-terminal kinase; LDLa, low-density lipoprotein class A; LTK, leucocyte tyrosine kinase; MAM, meprin, A5 protein and receptor protein tyrosine phosphatase mu; MAPK, mitogen-activated protein kinase; MEK, MAPK/ERK kinase; MK, midkine; MSN, moesin; mTOR, mammalian target of rapamycin; MUC-1, mucin-1; MYH9, non-muscle myosin heavy chain; NF-κB, nuclear factor κB; NIPA, nuclear interacting partner of ALK; NPM, nucleophosmin; NSCLC, non-small cell lung cancer; PI3K, phosphoinositide 3-kinase; PKB, protein kinase B; PLCγ, phospholipase Cγ; PTN, pleiotrophin; RANBP2, Ran-binding protein 2; RPTP, receptor protein tyrosine phosphatase; RTK, receptor tyrosine kinase; SCC, squamous cell carcinoma; SCD-2, suppressor of constitutive dauer 2; SEC31L1, SEC31 homologue A; SH2, Src homology 2; Shc, Src homology and collagen homology; SHH, sonic hedghog; Shp1, SH2 domain-containing phosphatase 1; STAT, signal transducer and activator of transcription; TFG, TRK-fused gene; TGFβ, transforming growth factor β; TPM, tropomyosin; UCN-01, unco-ordinated 1

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