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1.  POT1 loss-of-function variants predispose to familial melanoma 
Nature genetics  2014;46(5):478-481.
Deleterious germline variants in CDKN2A account for around 40% of familial melanoma cases1, while rare variants in CDK4, BRCA2, BAP1, and the promoter of TERT, have also been linked to the disease2-5. Here we set out to identify novel high-penetrance susceptibility genes in unexplained cases by sequencing 184 melanoma patients from 105 pedigrees recruited in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Australia that were negative for variants in known predisposition genes. We identify families where melanoma co-segregates with loss-of-function variants in the protection of telomeres 1 (POT1) gene, a proportion of members presenting with an early age of onset and multiple primaries. We show that these variants either affect POT1 mRNA splicing or alter key residues in the highly conserved oligonucleotide-/oligosaccharide-binding (OB) domains of POT1, disrupting protein-telomere binding, leading to increased telomere length. Thus, POT1 variants predispose to melanoma formation via a direct effect on telomeres.
PMCID: PMC4266105  PMID: 24686849
2.  Smchd1 regulates a subset of autosomal genes subject to monoallelic expression in addition to being critical for X inactivation 
Smchd1 is an epigenetic modifier essential for X chromosome inactivation: female embryos lacking Smchd1 fail during midgestational development. Male mice are less affected by Smchd1-loss, with some (but not all) surviving to become fertile adults on the FVB/n genetic background. On other genetic backgrounds, all males lacking Smchd1 die perinatally. This suggests that, in addition to being critical for X inactivation, Smchd1 functions to control the expression of essential autosomal genes.
Using genome-wide microarray expression profiling and RNA-seq, we have identified additional genes that fail X inactivation in female Smchd1 mutants and have identified autosomal genes in male mice where the normal expression pattern depends upon Smchd1. A subset of genes in the Snrpn imprinted gene cluster show an epigenetic signature and biallelic expression consistent with loss of imprinting in the absence of Smchd1. In addition, single nucleotide polymorphism analysis of expressed genes in the placenta shows that the Igf2r imprinted gene cluster is also disrupted, with Slc22a3 showing biallelic expression in the absence of Smchd1. In both cases, the disruption was not due to loss of the differential methylation that marks the imprint control region, but affected genes remote from this primary imprint controlling element. The clustered protocadherins (Pcdhα, Pcdhβ, and Pcdhγ) also show altered expression levels, suggesting that their unique pattern of random combinatorial monoallelic expression might also be disrupted.
Smchd1 has a role in the expression of several autosomal gene clusters that are subject to monoallelic expression, rather than being restricted to functioning uniquely in X inactivation. Our findings, combined with the recent report implicating heterozygous mutations of SMCHD1 as a causal factor in the digenically inherited muscular weakness syndrome facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy-2, highlight the potential importance of Smchd1 in the etiology of diverse human diseases.
PMCID: PMC3707822  PMID: 23819640
Clustered protocadherins; Genomic imprinting; Monoallelic expression; Smchd1; X inactivation
3.  Frequent somatic MAP3K5 and MAP3K9 mutations in metastatic melanoma identified by exome sequencing 
Nature Genetics  2011;44(2):165-169.
We sequenced 8 melanoma exomes to identify novel somatic mutations in metastatic melanoma. Focusing on the MAP3K family, we found that 24% of melanoma cell lines have mutations in the protein-coding regions of either MAP3K5 or MAP3K9. Structural modelling predicts that mutations in the kinase domain may affect the activity and regulation of MAP3K5/9 protein kinases. The position of the mutations and loss of heterozygosity of MAP3K5 and MAP3K9 in 85% and 67% of melanoma samples, respectively, together suggest that the mutations are likely inactivating. In vitro kinase assay shows reduction in kinase activity in MAP3K5 I780F and MAP3K9 W333X mutants. Overexpression of MAP3K5 or MAP3K9 mutant in HEK293T cells reduces phosphorylation of downstream MAP kinases. Attenuation of MAP3K9 function in melanoma cells using siRNA leads to increased cell viability after temozolomide treatment, suggesting that decreased MAP3K pathway activity can lead to chemoresistance in melanoma.
PMCID: PMC3267896  PMID: 22197930
5.  A novel recurrent mutation in MITF predisposes to familial and sporadic melanoma 
Nature  2011;480(7375):99-103.
So far, two familial melanoma genes have been identified, accounting for a minority of genetic risk in families. Mutations in CDKN2A account for approximately 40% of familial cases1, and predisposing mutations in CDK4 have been reported in a very small number of melanoma kindreds2. To identify other familial melanoma genes, here we conducted whole-genome sequencing of probands from several melanoma families, identifying one individual carrying a novel germline variant (coding DNA sequence c.G1075A; protein sequence p.E318K; rs149617956) in the melanoma-lineage-specific oncogene microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF). Although the variant co-segregated with melanoma in some but not all cases in the family, linkage analysis of 31 families subsequently identified to carry the variant generated a log odds ratio (lod) score of 2.7 under a dominant model, indicating E318K as a possible intermediate risk variant. Consistent with this, the E318K variant was significantly associated with melanoma in a large Australian case–control sample. Likewise, it was similarly associated in an independent case–control sample from the United Kingdom. In the Australian sample, the variant allele was significantly over-represented in cases with a family history of melanoma, multiple primary melanomas, or both. The variant allele was also associated with increased naevus count and non-blue eye colour. Functional analysis of E318K showed that MITF encoded by the variant allele had impaired sumoylation and differentially regulated several MITF targets. These data indicate that MITF is a melanoma-predisposition gene and highlight the utility of whole-genome sequencing to identify novel rare variants associated with disease susceptibility.
PMCID: PMC3266855  PMID: 22080950
6.  Cross-Platform Array Screening Identifies COL1A2, THBS1, TNFRSF10D and UCHL1 as Genes Frequently Silenced by Methylation in Melanoma 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26121.
Epigenetic regulation of tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) has been shown to play a central role in melanomagenesis. By integrating gene expression and methylation array analysis we identified novel candidate genes frequently methylated in melanoma. We validated the methylation status of the most promising genes using highly sensitive Sequenom Epityper assays in a large panel of melanoma cell lines and resected melanomas, and compared the findings with those from cultured melanocytes. We found transcript levels of UCHL1, COL1A2, THBS1 and TNFRSF10D were inversely correlated with promoter methylation. For THBS1 and UCHL1 the effect of this methylation on expression was confirmed at the protein level. Identification of these candidate TSGs and future research designed to understand how their silencing is related to melanoma development will increase our understanding of the etiology of this cancer and may provide tools for its early diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC3197591  PMID: 22028813
7.  Transcriptional Pathway Signatures Predict MEK Addiction and Response to Selumetinib (AZD6244) 
Cancer research  2010;70(6):2264-2273.
Selumetinib (AZD6244, ARRY-142886) is a selective, non–ATP-competitive inhibitor of mitogen-activated protein/extracellular signal–regulated kinase kinase (MEK)-1/2. The range of antitumor activity seen preclinically and in patients highlights the importance of identifying determinants of response to this drug. In large tumor cell panels of diverse lineage, we show that MEK inhibitor response does not have an absolute correlation with mutational or phospho-protein markers of BRAF/MEK, RAS, or phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) activity. We aimed to enhance predictivity by measuring pathway output through coregulated gene networks displaying differential mRNA expression exclusive to resistant cell subsets and correlated to mutational or dynamic pathway activity. We discovered an 18-gene signature enabling measurement of MEK functional output independent of tumor genotype. Where the MEK pathway is activated but the cells remain resistant to selumetinib, we identified a 13-gene signature that implicates the existence of compensatory signaling from RAS effectors other than PI3K. The ability of these signatures to stratify samples according to functional activation of MEK and/or selumetinib sensitivity was shown in multiple independent melanoma, colon, breast, and lung tumor cell lines and in xenograft models. Furthermore, we were able to measure these signatures in fixed archival melanoma tumor samples using a single RT-qPCR–based test and found intergene correlations and associations with genetic markers of pathway activity to be preserved. These signatures offer useful tools for the study of MEK biology and clinical application of MEK inhibitors, and the novel approaches taken may benefit other targeted therapies.
PMCID: PMC3166660  PMID: 20215513
8.  Characterization of the Melanoma miRNAome by Deep Sequencing 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(3):e9685.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are 18–23 nucleotide non-coding RNAs that regulate gene expression in a sequence specific manner. Little is known about the repertoire and function of miRNAs in melanoma or the melanocytic lineage. We therefore undertook a comprehensive analysis of the miRNAome in a diverse range of pigment cells including: melanoblasts, melanocytes, congenital nevocytes, acral, mucosal, cutaneous and uveal melanoma cells.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We sequenced 12 small RNA libraries using Illumina's Genome Analyzer II platform. This massively parallel sequencing approach of a diverse set of melanoma and pigment cell libraries revealed a total of 539 known mature and mature-star sequences, along with the prediction of 279 novel miRNA candidates, of which 109 were common to 2 or more libraries and 3 were present in all libraries.
Some of the novel candidate miRNAs may be specific to the melanocytic lineage and as such could be used as biomarkers to assist in the early detection of distant metastases by measuring the circulating levels in blood. Follow up studies of the functional roles of these pigment cell miRNAs and the identification of the targets should shed further light on the development and progression of melanoma.
PMCID: PMC2837346  PMID: 20300190
9.  Features associated with germline CDKN2A mutations: a GenoMEL study of melanoma‐prone families from three continents 
Journal of Medical Genetics  2006;44(2):99-106.
The major factors individually reported to be associated with an increased frequency of CDKN2A mutations are increased number of patients with melanoma in a family, early age at melanoma diagnosis, and family members with multiple primary melanomas (MPM) or pancreatic cancer.
These four features were examined in 385 families with ⩾3 patients with melanoma pooled by 17 GenoMEL groups, and these attributes were compared across continents.
Overall, 39% of families had CDKN2A mutations ranging from 20% (32/162) in Australia to 45% (29/65) in North America to 57% (89/157) in Europe. All four features in each group, except pancreatic cancer in Australia (p = 0.38), individually showed significant associations with CDKN2A mutations, but the effects varied widely across continents. Multivariate examination also showed different predictors of mutation risk across continents. In Australian families, ⩾2 patients with MPM, median age at melanoma diagnosis ⩽40 years and ⩾6 patients with melanoma in a family jointly predicted the mutation risk. In European families, all four factors concurrently predicted the risk, but with less stringent criteria than in Australia. In North American families, only ⩾1 patient with MPM and age at diagnosis ⩽40 years simultaneously predicted the mutation risk.
The variation in CDKN2A mutations for the four features across continents is consistent with the lower melanoma incidence rates in Europe and higher rates of sporadic melanoma in Australia. The lack of a pancreatic cancer–CDKN2A mutation relationship in Australia probably reflects the divergent spectrum of mutations in families from Australia versus those from North America and Europe. GenoMEL is exploring candidate host, genetic and/or environmental risk factors to better understand the variation observed.
PMCID: PMC2598064  PMID: 16905682
melanoma;  CDKN2A ; multiple primary melanomas; pancreatic cancer
10.  Common sequence variants on 20q11.22 confer melanoma susceptibility 
Nature genetics  2008;40(7):838-840.
We conducted a genome-wide association pooling study for cutaneous melanoma and performed validation in samples totalling 2019 cases and 2105 controls. Using pooling we identified a novel melanoma risk locus on chromosome 20 (rs910873, rs1885120), with replication in two further samples (combined P <1 × 10-15). The odds ratio is 1.75 (1.53, 2.01), with evidence for stronger association in early onset cases.
PMCID: PMC2755512  PMID: 18488026
11.  A comparison of CDKN2A mutation detection within the Melanoma Genetics Consortium (GenoMEL) 
CDKN2A is the major melanoma susceptibility gene so far identified, but only 40% of three or more case families have identified mutations. A comparison of mutation detection rates was carried out by “blind” exchange of samples across GenoMEL, the Melanoma Genetics Consortium, to establish the false negative detection rates. Denaturing high performance liquid chromatography (DHPLC) screening results from 451 samples were compared to screening data from nine research groups in which the initial mutation screen had been done predominantly by sequencing. Three samples with mutations identified at local centres were not detected by the DHPLC screen. No additional mutations were detected by DHPLC. Mutation detection across groups within GenoMEL is carried out to a consistently high standard. The relatively low rate of CDKN2A mutation detection is not due to failure to detect mutations and implies the existence of other high penetrance melanoma susceptibility genes.
PMCID: PMC2494985  PMID: 18394881
CDKN2A; melanoma; mutation detection; sequencing; polymorphism; audit; DHPLC; False negative
12.  SiDCoN: A Tool to Aid Scoring of DNA Copy Number Changes in SNP Chip Data 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(10):e1093.
The recent application of genome-wide, single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) microarrays to investigate DNA copy number aberrations in cancer has provided unparalleled sensitivity for identifying genomic changes. In some instances the complexity of these changes makes them difficult to interpret, particularly when tumour samples are contaminated with normal (stromal) tissue. Current automated scoring algorithms require considerable manual data checking and correction, especially when assessing uncultured tumour specimens. To address these limitations we have developed a visual tool to aid in the analysis of DNA copy number data. Simulated DNA Copy Number (SiDCoN) is a spreadsheet-based application designed to simulate the appearance of B-allele and logR plots for all known types of tumour DNA copy number changes, in the presence or absence of stromal contamination. The system allows the user to determine the level of stromal contamination, as well as specify up to 3 different DNA copy number aberrations for up to 5000 data points (representing individual SNPs). This allows users great flexibility to assess simple or complex DNA copy number combinations. We demonstrate how this utility can be used to estimate the level of stromal contamination within tumour samples and its application in deciphering the complex heterogeneous copy number changes we have observed in a series of tumours. We believe this tool will prove useful to others working in the area, both as a training tool, and to aid in the interpretation of complex copy number changes.
PMCID: PMC2034603  PMID: 17971856
13.  Conditional Inactivation of the Men1 Gene Leads to Pancreatic and Pituitary Tumorigenesis but Does Not Affect Normal Development of These Tissues 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2004;24(8):3125-3131.
Mutations of the MEN1 gene, encoding the tumor suppressor menin, predispose individuals to the cancer syndrome multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1, characterized by the development of tumors of the endocrine pancreas and anterior pituitary and parathyroid glands. We have targeted the murine Men1 gene by using Cre recombinase-loxP technology to develop both total and tissue-specific knockouts of the gene. Conditional homozygous inactivation of the Men1 gene in the pituitary gland and endocrine pancreas bypasses the embryonic lethality associated with a constitutional Men1−/− genotype and leads to β-cell hyperplasia in less than 4 months and insulinomas and prolactinomas starting at 9 months. The pituitary gland and pancreas develop normally in the conditional absence of menin, but loss of this transcriptional cofactor is sufficient to cause β-cell hyperplasia in some islets; however, such loss is not sufficient to initiate pituitary gland tumorigenesis, suggesting that additional genetic events are necessary for the latter.
PMCID: PMC381682  PMID: 15060136

Results 1-13 (13)