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1.  CASC15-S is a tumor suppressor lncRNA at the 6p22 neuroblastoma susceptibility locus 
Cancer research  2015;75(15):3155-3166.
Chromosome 6p22 was identified recently as a neuroblastoma susceptibility locus, but its mechanistic contributions to tumorigenesis are as yet undefined. Here we report that the most highly significant single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) associations reside within CASC15, a long non-coding RNA that we define as a tumor suppressor at 6p22. Low-level expression of a short CASC15 isoform (CASC15-S) associated highly with advanced neuroblastoma and poor patient survival. In human neuroblastoma cells, attenuating CASC15-S increased cellular growth and migratory capacity. Gene expression analysis revealed downregulation of neuroblastoma-specific markers in cells with attenuated CASC15-S, with concomitant increases in cell adhesion and extracellular matrix transcripts. Altogether, our results point to CASC15-S as a mediator of neural growth and differentiation, which impacts neuroblastoma initiation and progression.
PMCID: PMC4526355  PMID: 26100672
neuroblastoma; lncRNA; CASC15; LINC00340; FLJ22536
2.  Genetic predisposition to neuroblastoma mediated by a LMO1 super-enhancer polymorphism 
Nature  2015;528(7582):418-421.
Neuroblastoma is a pediatric malignancy that typically arises in early childhood and is derived from the developing sympathetic nervous system. Clinical phenotypes range from localized tumors with excellent outcomes to widely metastatic disease where long-term survival is approximately 40% despite intensive therapy1. A previous genome-wide association study (GWAS) identified common polymorphisms at the LMO1 gene locus that are highly associated with neuroblastoma susceptibility and oncogenic addiction to LMO1 in the tumor cells2. Here we sought to discover the causal DNA variant at this locus and the mechanism by which it leads to neuroblastoma tumorigenesis. We first imputed all possible genotypes across the LMO1 locus and then mapped highly associated single nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs) to areas of chromatin accessibility, evolutionary conservation, and transcription factor binding sites. SNP rs2168101 G>T was the most highly associated variant (combined P=7.47×10-29, Odds Ratio 0.65, 95% CI: 0.60-0.70) and resided in a super-enhancer defined by extensive acetylation of histone H3 lysine 27 within the first intron of LMO1. The ancestral G-allele that is associated with tumor formation resides in a conserved GATA transcription factor binding motif. We show that the newly evolved protective TATA allele is associated with decreased total LMO1 expression (P=0.028) in neuroblastoma primary tumors and ablates GATA3 binding (P<0.0001). We demonstrate allelic imbalance favoring the G-containing strand in tumors heterozygous for this SNP as demonstrated both by RNA sequencing (P<0.0001) and reporter assays (P=0.002). These findings show that a recently evolved polymorphism within a super-enhancer element in the first intron of LMO1 influences neuroblastoma susceptibility through differential GATA transcription factor binding and direct modulation of LMO1 expression in cis, and this leads to an oncogenic dependency in tumor cells.
PMCID: PMC4775078  PMID: 26560027
3.  Common genetic variants in NEFL influence gene expression and neuroblastoma risk 
Cancer research  2014;74(23):6913-6924.
The genetic etiology of sporadic neuroblastoma is still largely obscure. In a genome-wide association study, we identified single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) associated with neuroblastoma at the LINC00340, BARD1, LMO1, DUSP12, HSD17B12, HACE1 and LIN28B gene loci, but these explain only a small fraction of neuroblastoma heritability. Other neuroblastoma susceptibility genes are likely hidden among signals discarded by the multiple testing corrections. In this study, we evaluated 8 additional genes selected as candidates for further study based on proven involvement in neuroblastoma differentiation. SNP at these candidate genes were tested for association with disease susceptibility in 2101 cases and 4202 controls, with the associations found replicated in an independent cohort of 459 cases and 809 controls. Replicated associations were further studied for cis-effect using gene expression, transient overexpression, silencing and cellular differentiation assays. The neurofilament gene NEFL harbored three SNP associated with neuroblastoma (rs11994014; Pcombined=0.0050; OR=0.88, rs2979704; Pcombined=0.0072; OR=0.87, rs105911; Pcombined=0.0049; OR=0.86). The protective allele of rs1059111 correlated with increased NEFL expression. Biological investigations showed that ectopic overexpression of NEFL inhibited cell growth specifically in neuroblastoma cells carrying the protective allele. NEFL overexpression also enhanced differentiation and impaired the proliferation and anchorage-independent growth of cells with protective allele and basal NEFL expression, while impairing invasiveness and proliferation of cells homozygous for the risk genotype. Clinically, high levels of NEFL expression in primary neuroblastoma specimens was associated with better overall survival (P=0.03; HR=0.68). Our results show that common variants of NEFL influence neuroblastoma susceptibility and they establish that NEFL expression influences disease initiation and progression.
PMCID: PMC4253722  PMID: 25312269
neuroblastoma; SNP; NEFL; genetic association; GWAS
4.  Rare Variants in TP53 and Susceptibility to Neuroblastoma 
TP53 is the most frequently mutated gene in human malignancies; however, de novo somatic mutations in childhood embryonal cancers such as neuroblastoma are rare. We report on the analysis of three independent case–control cohorts comprising 10290 individuals and demonstrate that rs78378222 and rs35850753, rare germline variants in linkage disequilibrium that map to the 3′ untranslated region (UTR) of TP53 and 5′ UTR of the Δ133 isoform of TP53, respectively, are robustly associated with neuroblastoma (rs35850753: odds ratio [OR] = 2.7, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.0 to 3.6, P combined = 3.43×10−12; rs78378222: OR = 2.3, 95% CI = 1.8 to 2.9, P combined = 2.03×10−11). All statistical tests were two-sided. These findings add neuroblastoma to the complex repertoire of human cancers influenced by the rs78378222 hypomorphic allele, which impairs proper termination and polyadenylation of TP53 transcripts. Future studies using whole-genome sequencing data are likely to reveal additional rare variants with large effect sizes contributing to neuroblastoma tumorigenesis.
PMCID: PMC3982892  PMID: 24634504
5.  The genetic landscape of high-risk neuroblastoma 
Nature genetics  2013;45(3):279-284.
Neuroblastoma is a malignancy of the developing sympathetic nervous system that often presents with widespread metastatic disease, resulting in survival rates of less than 50%1. To determine the spectrum of somatic mutation in high-risk neuroblastoma, we studied 240 cases using a combination of whole exome, genome and transcriptome sequencing as part of the Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET) initiative. Here we report a low median exonic mutation frequency of 0.60 per megabase (0.48 non-silent), and remarkably few recurrently mutated genes in these tumors. Genes with significant somatic mutation frequencies included ALK (9.2% of cases), PTPN11 (2.9%), ATRX (2.5%, an additional 7.1% had focal deletions), MYCN (1.7%, a recurrent p.Pro44Leu alteration), and NRAS (0.83%). Rare, potentially pathogenic germline variants were significantly enriched in ALK, CHEK2, PINK1, and BARD1. The relative paucity of recurrent somatic mutations in neuroblastoma challenges current therapeutic strategies reliant upon frequently altered oncogenic drivers.
PMCID: PMC3682833  PMID: 23334666
6.  Replication of neuroblastoma SNP association at the BARD1 locus in African-Americans 
Neuroblastoma (NBL) is an often-fatal pediatric cancer more frequent in European-American than African-American children. African-American children, however, are at higher risk for the more severe form of NBL, and have worse overall survival than European-American children. Genome wide association studies (GWAS) have identified several SNPs associated to NBL in children of European descent. Knowledge of their association to NBL in African-American children is still lacking.
We genotyped and imputed SNPs located in three gene regions reported to be associated to NBL in children of European descent, and tested them for association in 390 African-American NBL patients compared to 2500 healthy, ethnically matched controls.
SNPs in the BARD1 gene region show a similar pattern of association to NBL in African-American and European-American children. The more restricted extent of linkage disequilibrium in the African-American population suggests a smaller candidate region for the putative causal variants than previously reported. Limited association was observed at the other two gene regions tested, including LMO1 in 11p15 and FLJ22536 in 6p22.
Common BARD1 SNPs affect risk of NBL in African-Americans. The role of other SNPs associated to NBL in children of European descent could not be confirmed, possibly due to different patterns of linkage disequilibrium or limited statistical power to detect association to variants with small effect on disease risk. Extension of GWAS to populations of African descent is important to confirm their results and validity beyond the European populations, and can help to refine the location of the putative causal variants.
PMCID: PMC3319325  PMID: 22328350
Neuroblastoma; BARD1; African-Americans; SNPs; genetic association
7.  Common variation at 6q16 within HACE1 and LIN28B influences susceptibility to neuroblastoma 
Nature genetics  2012;44(10):1126-1130.
Neuroblastoma is a cancer of the sympathetic nervous system that accounts for approximately 10% of all pediatric oncology deaths1. Here we report on a genome-wide association study of 2,817 neuroblastoma cases and 7,473 controls. We identified two new associations at 6q16, the first within HACE1 (rs4336470; combined P = 2.7 × 10−11, odds ratio 1.26, 95% CI: 1.18–1.35) and the second within LIN28B (rs17065417; combined P = 1.2 × 10−8, odds ratio 1.38, 95% CI: 1.23–1.54). Expression of LIN28B and let-7 miRNA correlated with rs17065417 genotype in neuroblastoma cell lines, and we observed significant growth inhibition upon depletion of LIN28B specifically in neuroblastoma cells homozygous for the risk allele. Low HACE1 and high LIN28B expression in diagnostic primary neuroblastomas were associated with worse overall survival (P = 0.008 and 0.014, respectively). Taken together, we show that common variants in HACE1 and LIN28B influence neuroblastoma susceptibility and that both genes likely play a role in disease progression.
PMCID: PMC3459292  PMID: 22941191
8.  Common Variation at BARD1 Results in the Expression of an Oncogenic Isoform that Influences Neuroblastoma Susceptibility and Oncogenicity 
Cancer Research  2012;72(8):2068-2078.
The mechanisms underlying genetic susceptibility at loci discovered by genome-wide association study (GWAS) approaches in human cancer remain largely undefined. In this study we characterized the high-risk neuroblastoma association at the BRCA1-related locus, BARD1, showing that disease-associated variations correlate with increased expression of the oncogenically activated isoform, BARD1β. In neuroblastoma cells, silencing of BARD1β showed genotype-specific cytotoxic effects, including decreased substrate-adherent, anchorage-independent, and foci growth. In established murine fibroblasts, overexpression of BARD1β was sufficient for neoplastic transformation. BARD1β stabilized the Aurora family of kinases in neuroblastoma cells, suggesting both a mechanism for the observed effect and a potential therapeutic strategy. Together, our findings identify BARD1β as an oncogenic driver of high-risk neuroblastoma tumorigenesis, and more generally, they illustrate how robust GWAS signals offer genomic landmarks to identify molecular mechanisms involved in both tumor initiation and malignant progression. The interaction of BARD1β with the Aurora family of kinases lends strong support to the ongoing work to develop Aurora kinase inhibitors for clinically aggressive neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC3328617  PMID: 22350409
genome-wide association; neuroblastoma; BARD1; cancer susceptibility genes; functional genomics; oncogenes; genotype-phenotype correlations
9.  Integrative genomics identifies LMO1 as a neuroblastoma oncogene 
Nature  2010;469(7329):216-220.
Neuroblastoma is a childhood cancer of the sympathetic nervous system that accounts for approximately 10% of all paediatric oncology deaths1,2. To identify genetic risk factors for neuroblastoma, we performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) on 2,251 patients and 6,097 control subjects of European ancestry from four case series. Here we report a significant association within LIM domain only 1 (LMO1) at 11p15.4 (rs110419, combined P = 5.2 × 10−16, odds ratio of risk allele = 1.34 (95% confidence interval 1.25–1.44)). The signal was enriched in the subset of patients with the most aggressive form of the disease. LMO1 encodes a cysteine-rich transcriptional regulator, and its paralogues (LMO2, LMO3 and LMO4) have each been previously implicated in cancer. In parallel, we analysed genome-wide DNA copy number alterations in 701 primary tumours. We found that the LMO1 locus was aberrant in 12.4% through a duplication event, and that this event was associated with more advanced disease (P < 0.0001) and survival (P = 0.041). The germline single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) risk alleles and somatic copy number gains were associated with increased LMO1 expression in neuroblastoma cell lines and primary tumours, consistent with a gain-of-function role in tumorigenesis. Short hairpin RNA (shRNA)-mediated depletion of LMO1 inhibited growth of neuroblastoma cells with high LMO1 expression, whereas forced expression of LMO1 in neuroblastoma cells with low LMO1 expression enhanced proliferation. These data show that common polymorphisms at the LMO1 locus are strongly associated with susceptibility to developing neuroblastoma, but also may influence the likelihood of further somatic alterations at this locus, leading to malignant progression.
PMCID: PMC3320515  PMID: 21124317
10.  Phenotype Restricted Genome-Wide Association Study Using a Gene-Centric Approach Identifies Three Low-Risk Neuroblastoma Susceptibility Loci 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(3):e1002026.
Neuroblastoma is a malignant neoplasm of the developing sympathetic nervous system that is notable for its phenotypic diversity. High-risk patients typically have widely disseminated disease at diagnosis and a poor survival probability, but low-risk patients frequently have localized tumors that are almost always cured with little or no chemotherapy. Our genome-wide association study (GWAS) has identified common variants within FLJ22536, BARD1, and LMO1 as significantly associated with neuroblastoma and more robustly associated with high-risk disease. Here we show that a GWAS focused on low-risk cases identified SNPs within DUSP12 at 1q23.3 (P = 2.07×10−6), DDX4 and IL31RA both at 5q11.2 (P = 2.94×10−6 and 6.54×10−7 respectively), and HSD17B12 at 11p11.2 (P = 4.20×10−7) as being associated with the less aggressive form of the disease. These data demonstrate the importance of robust phenotypic data in GWAS analyses and identify additional susceptibility variants for neuroblastoma.
Author Summary
Neuroblastoma is the most common solid tumor outside the central nervous system and is accountable for 10% of the mortality rate of all children's cancers. It has distinctive clinical behaviors and is categorized into different risk groups: high-risk, intermediate-risk, and low-risk. Genome-wide association studies have reported a number of genetic variations predisposing to high-risk neuroblastoma. This study focuses on the low-risk neuroblastoma group and identifies four novel genes (DUSP12, DDX4, IL31RA, and HSD17B12) at three distinct genomic positions that harbor disease-causing variants. This study also reports several gene sets that are enriched in overall neuroblastoma as well as in both high-risk and low-risk groups. Also of importance is that this study adopts a new computational method that identifies genes, instead of only one single nucleotide polymorphism, as disease-causing variants. Shown to have superior power of detection genome-wide association signals for neuroblastoma, the methodology presented in this study has great potential applications in case-control association studies in other diseases.
PMCID: PMC3060064  PMID: 21436895
11.  Cardiac-Restricted Overexpression of the A2A-Adenosine Receptor in FVB Mice Transiently Increases Contractile Performance and Rescues the Heart Failure Phenotype in Mice Overexpressing the A1-Adenosine Receptor 
In the heart, adenosine binds to pharmacologically distinct G protein-coupled receptors (R) located on the cardiomyocyte (A1-R, A2A-R and A3-R). While the role of the A1- and A3-Rs in the heart has been clarified by selective overexpression or ablation in murine hearts, the effects of genetically manipulating the A2A-R has not been defined. Thus, we created mice overexpressing a cardiac-restricted A2A-R transgene. Mice with both low (Lo) and high (Hi) levels of A2A-R overexpression demonstrated a marked increase in cardiac contractility at 12 weeks-of-age. These changes were associated with a significantly higher systolic but not diastolic [Ca2+]i, higher maximal contraction amplitudes, maximal shortening and re-lengthening velocities, and a significantly enhanced sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ uptake activity. The alterations in Ca2+ handling were associated with an increase in the level of sarcoplasmic/endoplasmic reticulum calcium ATPase (SERCA2). At 20 weeks-of-age, the effects of A2A-R overexpression on cardiac contractility diminished. The positive effects elicited by A2A-R overexpression differ from the heart failure phenotype we observed with A1-R overexpresson. Interestingly, co-expression of A2A-R TGHi, but not A2A-R TGLo, enhanced survival, prevented the development of left ventricular dysfunction and heart failure and improved Ca2+ handling in mice overexpressing the A1-R. These results suggest that adenosine-mediated signaling in the heart requires a balance between A1- and A2A-Rs – a finding that may have important implications for the ongoing clinical evaluation of adenosine receptor subtype-specific agonists and antagonists for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases.
PMCID: PMC2846643  PMID: 20354569
adenosine receptors; Ca2+ transients; cardiac myocytes; heart failure; transgenic mice
12.  Common variations in BARD1 influence susceptibility to high-risk neuroblastoma 
Nature genetics  2009;41(6):718-723.
We conducted a SNP-based genome-wide association study (GWAS) focused on the high-risk subset of neuroblastoma1. As our previous unbiased GWAS showed strong association of common 6p22 SNP alleles with aggressive neuroblastoma2, we now restricted our analysis to 397 high-risk cases compared to 2,043 controls. We detected new significant association of six SNPs at 2q35 within the BARD1 gene locus (Pallelic = 2.35×10−9 − 2.25×10−8). Each SNP association was confirmed in a second series of 189 high-risk cases and 1,178 controls (Pallelic = 7.90×10−7 − 2.77×10−4). The two most significant SNPs (rs6435862, rs3768716) were also tested in two additional independent high-risk neuroblastoma case series, yielding combined allelic odds-ratios of 1.68 each (P = 8.65×10−18 and 2.74×10−16, respectively). Significant association was also found with known BARD1 nsSNPs. These data show that common variation in BARD1 contributes to the etiology of the aggressive and most clinically relevant subset of human neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC2753610  PMID: 19412175
13.  Copy number variation at 1q21.1 associated with neuroblastoma 
Nature  2009;459(7249):987-991.
Common copy number variations (CNVs) represent a significant source of genetic diversity, yet their influence on phenotypic variability, including disease susceptibility, remains poorly understood. To address this problem in cancer, we performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of CNVs in the childhood cancer neuroblastoma, a disease where SNP variations are known to influence susceptibility1,2. We first genotyped 846 Caucasian neuroblastoma patients and 803 healthy Caucasian controls at 550,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms, and performed a CNV-based test for association. We then replicated significant observations in two independent sample sets comprised of a total of 595 cases and 3,357 controls. We identified a common CNV at 1q21.1 associated with neuroblastoma in the discovery set, which was confirmed in both replication sets (Pcombined = 2.97 × 10−17; OR = 2.49, 95% CI: 2.02 to 3.05). This CNV was validated by quantitative PCR, fluorescent in situ hybridization, and analysis of matched tumor specimens, and was shown to be heritable in an independent set of 713 cancer-free trios. We identified a novel transcript within the CNV which showed high sequence similarity to several “Neuroblastoma breakpoint family” (NBPF) genes3,4 and represents a new member of this gene family (NBPFX). This transcript was preferentially expressed in fetal brain and fetal sympathetic nervous tissues, and expression level was strictly correlated with CNV state in neuroblastoma cells. These data demonstrate that inherited copy number variation at 1q21.1 is associated with neuroblastoma and implicate a novel NBPF gene in early tumorigenesis of this childhood cancer.
PMCID: PMC2755253  PMID: 19536264

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