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1.  Genome instability model of metastatic neuroblastoma tumorigenesis by a dictionary learning algorithm 
BMC Medical Genomics  2015;8:57.
Metastatic neuroblastoma (NB) occurs in pediatric patients as stage 4S or stage 4 and it is characterized by heterogeneous clinical behavior associated with diverse genotypes. Tumors of stage 4 contain several structural copy number aberrations (CNAs) rarely found in stage 4S. To date, the NB tumorigenesis is not still elucidated, although it is evident that genomic instability plays a critical role in the genesis of the tumor. Here we propose a mathematical approach to decipher genomic data and we provide a new model of NB metastatic tumorigenesis.
We elucidate NB tumorigenesis using Enhanced Fused Lasso Latent Feature Model (E-FLLat) modeling the array comparative chromosome hybridization (aCGH) data of 190 metastatic NBs (63 stage 4S and 127 stage 4). This model for aCGH segmentation, based on the minimization of functional dictionary learning (DL), combines several penalties tailored to the specificities of aCGH data. In DL, the original signal is approximated by a linear weighted combination of atoms: the elements of the learned dictionary.
The hierarchical structures for stage 4S shows at the first level of the oncogenetic tree several whole chromosome gains except to the unbalanced gains of 17q, 2p and 2q. Conversely, the high CNA complexity found in stage 4 tumors, requires two different trees. Both stage 4 oncogenetic trees are marked diverged, up to five sublevels and the 17q gain is the most common event at the first level (2/3 nodes). Moreover the 11q deletion, one of the major unfavorable marker of disease progression, occurs before 3p loss indicating that critical chromosome aberrations appear at early stages of tumorigenesis. Finally, we also observed a significant (p = 0.025) association between patient age and chromosome loss in stage 4 cases.
These results led us to propose a genome instability progressive model in which NB cells initiate with a DNA synthesis uncoupled from cell division, that leads to stage 4S tumors, primarily characterized by numerical aberrations, or stage 4 tumors with high levels of genome instability resulting in complex chromosome rearrangements associated with high tumor aggressiveness and rapid disease progression.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12920-015-0132-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4566396  PMID: 26358114
2.  Comparison of RNA-seq and microarray-based models for clinical endpoint prediction 
Genome Biology  2015;16(1):133.
Gene expression profiling is being widely applied in cancer research to identify biomarkers for clinical endpoint prediction. Since RNA-seq provides a powerful tool for transcriptome-based applications beyond the limitations of microarrays, we sought to systematically evaluate the performance of RNA-seq-based and microarray-based classifiers in this MAQC-III/SEQC study for clinical endpoint prediction using neuroblastoma as a model.
We generate gene expression profiles from 498 primary neuroblastomas using both RNA-seq and 44 k microarrays. Characterization of the neuroblastoma transcriptome by RNA-seq reveals that more than 48,000 genes and 200,000 transcripts are being expressed in this malignancy. We also find that RNA-seq provides much more detailed information on specific transcript expression patterns in clinico-genetic neuroblastoma subgroups than microarrays. To systematically compare the power of RNA-seq and microarray-based models in predicting clinical endpoints, we divide the cohort randomly into training and validation sets and develop 360 predictive models on six clinical endpoints of varying predictability. Evaluation of factors potentially affecting model performances reveals that prediction accuracies are most strongly influenced by the nature of the clinical endpoint, whereas technological platforms (RNA-seq vs. microarrays), RNA-seq data analysis pipelines, and feature levels (gene vs. transcript vs. exon-junction level) do not significantly affect performances of the models.
We demonstrate that RNA-seq outperforms microarrays in determining the transcriptomic characteristics of cancer, while RNA-seq and microarray-based models perform similarly in clinical endpoint prediction. Our findings may be valuable to guide future studies on the development of gene expression-based predictive models and their implementation in clinical practice.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13059-015-0694-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4506430  PMID: 26109056
3.  Expression of FOXP3, CD14, and ARG1 in Neuroblastoma Tumor Tissue from High-Risk Patients Predicts Event-Free and Overall Survival 
BioMed Research International  2015;2015:347867.
The prognosis of children with metastatic neuroblastoma (NB) > 18 months at diagnosis is dismal. Since the immune status of the tumor microenvironment could play a role in the history of disease, we evaluated the expression of CD45, CD14, ARG1, CD163, CD4, FOXP3, Perforin-1 (PRF1), Granzyme B (GRMB), and IL-10 mRNAs in primary tumors at diagnosis from children with metastatic NB and tested whether the transcript levels are significantly associated to event-free and overall survival (EFS and OS, resp.). Children with high expression of CD14, ARG1 and FOXP3 mRNA in their primary tumors had significantly better EFS. Elevated expression of CD14, and FOXP3 mRNA was significantly associated to better OS. CD14 mRNA expression levels significantly correlated to all markers, with the exception of CD4. Strong positive correlations were found between PRF1 and CD163, as well as between PFR1 and FOXP3. It is worth noting that the combination of high levels of CD14, FOXP3, and ARG1 mRNAs identified a small group of patients with excellent EFS and OS, whereas low levels of CD14 were sufficient to identify patients with dismal survival. Thus, the immune status of the primary tumors of high-risk NB patients may influence the natural history of this pediatric cancer.
PMCID: PMC4486282  PMID: 26161395
4.  CASP8 SNP D302H (rs1045485) Is Associated with Worse Survival in MYCN-Amplified Neuroblastoma Patients 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e114696.
Neuroblastoma is a pediatric cancer that exhibits a wide clinical spectrum ranging from spontaneous regression in low-risk patients to fatal disease in high-risk patients. The identification of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) may help explain the heterogeneity of neuroblastoma and assist in identifying patients at higher risk for poor survival. SNPs in the TP53 pathway are of special importance, as several studies have reported associations between TP53 pathway SNPs and cancer. Of note, less than 2% of neuroblastoma tumors have a TP53 mutation at diagnosis.
Patients and Methods
We selected 21 of the most frequently studied SNPs in the TP53 pathway and evaluated their association with outcome in 500 neuroblastoma patients using TaqMan allelic discrimination assays.
Results and Conclusion
We investigated the impact of 21 SNPs on overall survival, event-free survival, age at diagnosis, MYCN status, and stage of the disease in 500 neuroblastoma patients. A missense SNP in exon 10 of the CASP8 gene SNP D302H was associated with worse overall and event-free survival in patients with MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma tumors.
PMCID: PMC4263607  PMID: 25502557
5.  Replication of GWAS-identified neuroblastoma risk loci strengthens the role of BARD1 and affirms the cumulative effect of genetic variations on disease susceptibility 
Carcinogenesis  2012;34(3):605-611.
Several neuroblastoma (NB) susceptibility loci have been identified within LINC00340, BARD1, LMO1, DUSP12, HSD17B12, DDX4, IL31RA, HACE1 and LIN28B by genome-wide association (GWA) studies including European American individuals. To validate and comprehensively evaluate the impact of the identified NB variants on disease risk and phenotype, we analyzed 16 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in an Italian population (370 cases and 809 controls). We assessed their regulatory activity on gene expression in lymphoblastoid (LCLs) and NB cell lines. We evaluated the cumulative effect of the independent loci on NB risk and high-risk phenotype development in Italian and European American (1627 cases and 2575 controls) populations. All NB susceptibility genes replicated in the Italian dataset except for DDX4 and IL31RA, and the most significant SNP was rs6435862 in BARD1 (P = 8.4×10–15). BARD1 showed an additional and independent SNP association (rs7585356). This variant influenced BARD1 mRNA expression in LCLs and NB cell lines. No evidence of epistasis among the NB-associated variants was detected, whereas a cumulative effect of risk variants on NB risk (European Americans: P trend = 6.9×10–30, Italians: P trend = 8.55×1013) and development of high-risk phenotype (European Americans: P trend = 6.9×10–13, Italians: P trend = 2.2×10–1) was observed in a dose-dependent manner. These results provide further evidence that the risk loci identified in GWA studies contribute to NB susceptibility in distinct populations and strengthen the role of BARD1 as major genetic contributor to NB risk. This study shows that even in the absence of interaction the combination of several low-penetrance alleles has potential to distinguish subgroups of patients at different risks of developing NB.
PMCID: PMC3716226  PMID: 23222812
6.  A p53 Drug Response Signature Identifies Prognostic Genes in High-Risk Neuroblastoma 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79843.
Chemotherapy induces apoptosis and tumor regression primarily through activation of p53-mediated transcription. Neuroblastoma is a p53 wild type malignancy at diagnosis and repression of p53 signaling plays an important role in its pathogenesis. Recently developed small molecule inhibitors of the MDM2-p53 interaction are able to overcome this repression and potently activate p53 dependent apoptosis in malignancies with intact p53 downstream signaling. We used the small molecule MDM2 inhibitor, Nutlin-3a, to determine the p53 drug response signature in neuroblastoma cells. In addition to p53 mediated apoptotic signatures, GSEA and pathway analysis identified a set of p53-repressed genes that were reciprocally over-expressed in neuroblastoma patients with the worst overall outcome in multiple clinical cohorts. Multifactorial regression analysis identified a subset of four genes (CHAF1A, RRM2, MCM3, and MCM6) whose expression together strongly predicted overall and event-free survival (p<0.0001). The expression of these four genes was then validated by quantitative PCR in a large independent clinical cohort. Our findings further support the concept that oncogene-driven transcriptional networks opposing p53 activation are essential for the aggressive behavior and poor response to therapy of high-risk neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC3865347  PMID: 24348903
7.  Impact of Interleukin-6 –174 G>C Gene Promoter Polymorphism on Neuroblastoma 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e76810.
Common variants in DNA may predispose to onset and progression of neuroblastoma (NB). The genotype GG of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs1800795 (−174 G>C) in interleukin (IL)-6 promoter has been associated with lower survival of high-risk NB.
To evaluate the impact of IL-6 SNP rs1800795 on disease risk and phenotype, we analyzed 326 Italian NB patients and 511 controls. Moreover, we performed in silico and quantitative Real Time (qRT)-PCR analyses to evaluate the influence of the SNP on gene expression in 198 lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) and in 31 NB tumors, respectively. Kaplan-Meier analysis was used to verify the association between IL-6 gene expression and patient survival. We found that IL-6 SNP is not involved in susceptibility to NB development. However, our results show that a low frequency of genotype CC is significantly associated with a low overall survival, advanced stage, and high-risk phenotype. The in silico (p = 2.61×10−5) and qRT-PCR (p = 0.03) analyses showed similar trend indicating that the CC genotype is correlated with increased level of IL-6 expression. In report gene assay, we showed that the −174 C variant had a significantly increased transcriptional activity compared with G allele (p = 0.0006). Moreover, Kaplan-Meier analysis demonstrated that high levels of IL-6 are associated with poor outcome in children with NB in two independent gene expression array datasets.
The biological effect of SNP IL-6–174 G>C in relation to promotion of cancer progression is consistent with the observed decreased survival time. The present study suggests that SNP IL-6–174 G>C may be a useful marker for NB prognosis.
PMCID: PMC3804531  PMID: 24204677
8.  ICGC PedBrain: Dissecting the genomic complexity underlying medulloblastoma 
Jones, David TW | Jäger, Natalie | Kool, Marcel | Zichner, Thomas | Hutter, Barbara | Sultan, Marc | Cho, Yoon-Jae | Pugh, Trevor J | Hovestadt, Volker | Stütz, Adrian M | Rausch, Tobias | Warnatz, Hans-Jörg | Ryzhova, Marina | Bender, Sebastian | Sturm, Dominik | Pleier, Sabrina | Cin, Huriye | Pfaff, Elke | Sieber, Laura | Wittmann, Andrea | Remke, Marc | Witt, Hendrik | Hutter, Sonja | Tzaridis, Theophilos | Weischenfeldt, Joachim | Raeder, Benjamin | Avci, Meryem | Amstislavskiy, Vyacheslav | Zapatka, Marc | Weber, Ursula D | Wang, Qi | Lasitschka, Bärbel | Bartholomae, Cynthia C | Schmidt, Manfred | von Kalle, Christof | Ast, Volker | Lawerenz, Chris | Eils, Jürgen | Kabbe, Rolf | Benes, Vladimir | van Sluis, Peter | Koster, Jan | Volckmann, Richard | Shih, David | Betts, Matthew J | Russell, Robert B | Coco, Simona | Tonini, Gian Paolo | Schüller, Ulrich | Hans, Volkmar | Graf, Norbert | Kim, Yoo-Jin | Monoranu, Camelia | Roggendorf, Wolfgang | Unterberg, Andreas | Herold-Mende, Christel | Milde, Till | Kulozik, Andreas E | von Deimling, Andreas | Witt, Olaf | Maass, Eberhard | Rössler, Jochen | Ebinger, Martin | Schuhmann, Martin U | Frühwald, Michael C | Hasselblatt, Martin | Jabado, Nada | Rutkowski, Stefan | von Bueren, André O | Williamson, Dan | Clifford, Steven C | McCabe, Martin G | Collins, V. Peter | Wolf, Stephan | Wiemann, Stefan | Lehrach, Hans | Brors, Benedikt | Scheurlen, Wolfram | Felsberg, Jörg | Reifenberger, Guido | Northcott, Paul A | Taylor, Michael D | Meyerson, Matthew | Pomeroy, Scott L | Yaspo, Marie-Laure | Korbel, Jan O | Korshunov, Andrey | Eils, Roland | Pfister, Stefan M | Lichter, Peter
Nature  2012;488(7409):100-105.
Medulloblastoma is an aggressively-growing tumour, arising in the cerebellum or medulla/brain stem. It is the most common malignant brain tumour in children, and displays tremendous biological and clinical heterogeneity1. Despite recent treatment advances, approximately 40% of children experience tumour recurrence, and 30% will die from their disease. Those who survive often have a significantly reduced quality of life.
Four tumour subgroups with distinct clinical, biological and genetic profiles are currently discriminated2,3. WNT tumours, displaying activated wingless pathway signalling, carry a favourable prognosis under current treatment regimens4. SHH tumours show hedgehog pathway activation, and have an intermediate prognosis2. Group 3 & 4 tumours are molecularly less well-characterised, and also present the greatest clinical challenges2,3,5. The full repertoire of genetic events driving this distinction, however, remains unclear.
Here we describe an integrative deep-sequencing analysis of 125 tumour-normal pairs. Tetraploidy was identified as a frequent early event in Group 3 & 4 tumours, and a positive correlation between patient age and mutation rate was observed. Several recurrent mutations were identified, both in known medulloblastoma-related genes (CTNNB1, PTCH1, MLL2, SMARCA4) and in genes not previously linked to this tumour (DDX3X, CTDNEP1, KDM6A, TBR1), often in subgroup-specific patterns. RNA-sequencing confirmed these alterations, and revealed the expression of the first medulloblastoma fusion genes. Chromatin modifiers were frequently altered across all subgroups.
These findings enhance our understanding of the genomic complexity and heterogeneity underlying medulloblastoma, and provide several potential targets for new therapeutics, especially for Group 3 & 4 patients.
PMCID: PMC3662966  PMID: 22832583
9.  Epigenetic Silencing of DKK3 in Medulloblastoma 
Medulloblastoma (MB) is a malignant pediatric brain tumor arising in the cerebellum consisting of four distinct subgroups: WNT, SHH, Group 3 and Group 4, which exhibit different molecular phenotypes. We studied the expression of Dickkopf (DKK) 1–4 family genes, inhibitors of the Wnt signaling cascade, in MB by screening 355 expression profiles derived from four independent datasets. Upregulation of DKK1, DKK2 and DKK4 mRNA was observed in the WNT subgroup, whereas DKK3 was downregulated in 80% MBs across subgroups with respect to the normal cerebellum (p < 0.001). Since copy number aberrations targeting the DKK3 locus (11p15.3) are rare events, we hypothesized that epigenetic factors could play a role in DKK3 regulation. Accordingly, we studied 77 miRNAs predicting to repress DKK3; however, no significant inverse correlation between miRNA/mRNA expression was observed. Moreover, the low methylation levels in the DKK3 promoters (median: 3%, 5% and 5% for promoter 1, 2 and 3, respectively) excluded the downregulation of gene expression by methylation. On the other hand, the treatment of MB cells with Trichostatin A (TSA), a potent inhibitor of histone deacetylases (HDAC), was able to restore both DKK3 mRNA and protein. In conclusion, DKK3 downregulation across all MB subgroups may be due to epigenetic mechanisms, in particular, through chromatin condensation.
PMCID: PMC3645699  PMID: 23567267
medulloblastoma; Wnt antagonists; DKK family; DKK3 downregulation; histone deacetylase; TSA
10.  Characterisation and Validation of Insertions and Deletions in 173 Patient Exomes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51292.
Recent advances in genomics technologies have spurred unprecedented efforts in genome and exome re-sequencing aiming to unravel the genetic component of rare and complex disorders. While in rare disorders this allowed the identification of novel causal genes, the missing heritability paradox in complex diseases remains so far elusive. Despite rapid advances of next-generation sequencing, both the technology and the analysis of the data it produces are in its infancy. At present there is abundant knowledge pertaining to the role of rare single nucleotide variants (SNVs) in rare disorders and of common SNVs in common disorders. Although the 1,000 genome project has clearly highlighted the prevalence of rare variants and more complex variants (e.g. insertions, deletions), their role in disease is as yet far from elucidated.
We set out to analyse the properties of sequence variants identified in a comprehensive collection of exome re-sequencing studies performed on samples from patients affected by a broad range of complex and rare diseases (N = 173). Given the known potential for Loss of Function (LoF) variants to be false positive, we performed an extensive validation of the common, rare and private LoF variants identified, which indicated that most of the private and rare variants identified were indeed true, while common novel variants had a significantly higher false positive rate. Our results indicated a strong enrichment of very low-frequency insertion/deletion variants, so far under-investigated, which might be difficult to capture with low coverage and imputation approaches and for which most of study designs would be under-powered. These insertions and deletions might play a significant role in disease genetics, contributing specifically to the underlining rare and private variation predicted to be discovered through next generation sequencing.
PMCID: PMC3522676  PMID: 23251486
11.  High Genomic Instability Predicts Survival in Metastatic High-Risk Neuroblastoma12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2012;14(9):823-832.
We aimed to identify novel molecular prognostic markers to better predict relapse risk estimate for children with high-risk (HR) metastatic neuroblastoma (NB). We performed genome- and/or transcriptome-wide analyses of 129 stage 4 HR NBs. Children older than 1 year of age were categorized as “short survivors” (dead of disease within 5 years from diagnosis) and “long survivors” (alive with an overall survival time ≥ 5 years). We reported that patients with less than three segmental copy number aberrations in their tumor represent a molecularly defined subgroup with a high survival probability within the current HR group of patients. The complex genomic pattern is a prognostic marker independent of NB-associated chromosomal aberrations, i.e., MYCN amplification, 1p and 11q losses, and 17q gain. Integrative analysis of genomic and expression signatures demonstrated that fatal outcome is mainly associated with loss of cell cycle control and deregulation of Rho guanosine triphosphates (GTPases) functioning in neuritogenesis. Tumors with MYCN amplification show a lower chromosome instability compared to MYCN single-copy NBs (P = .0008), dominated by 17q gain and 1p loss. Moreover, our results suggest that the MYCN amplification mainly drives disruption of neuronal differentiation and reduction of cell adhesion process involved in tumor invasion and metastasis. Further validation studies are warranted to establish this as a risk stratification for patients.
PMCID: PMC3459278  PMID: 23019414
12.  The p53 Codon 72 Pro/Pro Genotype Identifies Poor-Prognosis Neuroblastoma Patients: Correlation with Reduced Apoptosis and Enhanced Senescence by the p53-72P Isoform12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2012;14(7):634-643.
The p53 gene is rarely mutated in neuroblastoma, but codon 72 polymorphism that modulates its proapoptotic activity might influence cancer risk and clinical outcome. We investigated whether this polymorphism affects neuroblastoma risk and disease outcome and assessed the biologic effects of the p53-72R and p53-72P isoforms in p53-null cells. Comparison of 288 healthy subjects and 286 neuroblastoma patients revealed that the p53-72 polymorphism had no significant impact on the risk of developing neuroblastoma; however, patients with the Pro/Pro genotype had a shorter survival than those with the Arg/Arg or the Arg/Pro genotypes even in the stage 3 and 4 subgroup without MYCN amplification. By Cox regression analysis, the p53 Pro/Pro genotype seems to be an independent marker of poor prognosis (hazard ratio = 2.74; 95% confidence interval = 1.14–6.55, P = .014) together with clinical stage, MYCN status, and age at diagnosis. In vitro, p53-72P was less effective than p53-72R in inducing apoptosis and inhibiting survival of p53-null LAN-1 cells treated with etoposide, topotecan, or ionizing radiation but not taxol. By contrast, p53-72P was more effective in promoting p21-dependent accelerated senescence, alone or in the presence of etoposide. Thus, the p53-72 Pro/Pro genotype might be a marker of poor outcome independent of MYCN amplification, possibly improving risk stratification. Moreover, the lower apoptosis and the enhanced accelerated senescence by the p53-72P isoform in response to DNA damage suggest that patients with neuroblastoma with the p53-72 Pro/Pro genotype may benefit from therapeutic protocols that do not rely only on cytotoxic drugs that function, in part, through p53 activation.
PMCID: PMC3421959  PMID: 22904680
13.  Multiple endocrine neoplasias type 2B and RET proto-oncogene 
Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia type 2B (MEN 2B) is an autosomal dominant complex oncologic neurocristopathy including medullary thyroid carcinoma, pheochromocytoma, gastrointestinal disorders, marphanoid face, and mucosal multiple ganglioneuromas. Medullary thyroid carcinoma is the major cause of mortality in MEN 2B syndrome, and it often appears during the first years of life. RET proto-oncogene germline activating mutations are causative for MEN 2B. The 95% of MEN 2B patients are associated with a point mutation in exon 16 (M918/T). A second point mutation at codon 883 has been found in 2%-3% of MEN 2B cases. RET proto-oncogene is also involved in different neoplastic and not neoplastic neurocristopathies. Other RET mutations cause MEN 2A syndrome, familial medullary thyroid carcinoma, or Hirschsprung's disease. RET gene expression is also involved in Neuroblastoma. The main diagnosis standards are the acetylcholinesterase study of rectal mucosa and the molecular analysis of RET. In our protocol the rectal biopsy is, therefore, the first approach. RET mutation detection offers the possibility to diagnose MEN 2B predisposition at a pre-clinical stage in familial cases, and to perform an early total prophylactic thyroidectomy. The surgical treatment of MEN 2B is total thyroidectomy with cervical limphadenectomy of the central compartment of the neck. When possible, this intervention should be performed with prophylactic aim before 1 year of age in patients with molecular genetic diagnosis. Recent advances into the mechanisms of RET proto-oncogene signaling and pathways of RET signal transduction in the development of MEN 2 and MTC will allow new treatment possibilities.
PMCID: PMC3368781  PMID: 22429913
Neurocristopathies; Neural Crest Cells; Cancer; MEN 2B; Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia; Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma; RET proto-oncogene; Thyroidectomy; Neuroblastoma; Hirschsprung's disease
14.  Bone Marrow-Infiltrating Human Neuroblastoma Cells Express High Levels of Calprotectin and HLA-G Proteins 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e29922.
Metastases in the bone marrow (BM) are grim prognostic factors in patients with neuroblastoma (NB). In spite of extensive analysis of primary tumor cells from high- and low-risk NB patients, a characterization of freshly isolated BM-infiltrating metastatic NB cells is still lacking. Our aim was to identify proteins specifically expressed by metastatic NB cells, that may be relevant for prognostic and therapeutic purposes. Sixty-six Italian children over 18 months of age, diagnosed with stage 4 NB, were included in the study. Metastatic NB cells were freshly isolated from patients' BM by positive immunomagnetic bead manipulation using anti-GD2 monoclonal antibody. Gene expression profiles were compared with those obtained from archived NB primary tumors from patients with 5y-follow-up. After validation by RT-qPCR, expression/secretion of the proteins encoded by the up-regulated genes in the BM-infiltrating NB cells was evaluated by flow cytometry and ELISA. Compared to primary tumor cells, BM-infiltrating NB cells down-modulated the expression of CX3CL1, AGT, ATP1A2 mRNAs, whereas they up-regulated several genes commonly expressed by various lineages of BM resident cells. BM-infiltrating NB cells expressed indeed the proteins encoded by the top-ranked genes, S100A8 and A9 (calprotectin), CD177 and CD3, and secreted the CXCL7 chemokine. BM-infiltrating NB cells also expressed CD271 and HLA-G. We have identified proteins specifically expressed by BM-infiltrating NB cells. Among them, calprotectin, a potent inflammatory protein, and HLA-G, endowed with tolerogenic properties facilitating tumor escape from host immune response, may represent novel biomarkers and/or targets for therapeutic intervention in high-risk NB patients.
PMCID: PMC3253802  PMID: 22253825
15.  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
16.  Chromosomal aberrations and aneuploidy in oral potentially malignant lesions: distinctive features for tongue 
BMC Cancer  2011;11:445.
The mucosae of the oral cavity are different at the histological level but appear all equally exposed to common genotoxic agents. As a result of this exposure, changes in the mucosal epithelia may develop giving rise to Oral Potentially Malignant Lesions (OPMLs), which with time may in turn progress to Oral Squamous Cell Carcinomas (OSCCs). Therefore, much effort should be devoted to identify features able to predict the likeliness of progression associated with an OPML. Such features may be helpful in assisting the clinician to establish both appropriate therapies and follow-up schedules. Here, we report a pilot study that compared the occurrence of DNA aneuploidy and chromosomal copy number aberrations (CNAs) in the OPMLs from different oral anatomical subsites.
Samples from histologically diagnosed OPMLs were processed for high resolution DNA flow cytometry (hr DNA-FCM) in order to determine the relative DNA content expressed by the DNA index (DI). Additionally, array-Comparative Genomic Hybridization (a-CGH) analysis was performed on DNA obtained from diploid nuclei suspensions directly. When aneuploid nuclei were detected, these were physically separated from diploid nuclei on the base of their DI values by means of a DNA-FCM-Sorter in order to improve the a-CGH analysis.
Tongue OPMLs were more frequently associated with DNA aneuploidy and CNAs than OPMLs arising from all the other mucosal subsites.
We suggest that the follow-up and the management of the patients with tongue OPMLs should receive a distinctive special attention. Clearly, this hypothesis should be validated in a prospective clinical study.
PMCID: PMC3229618  PMID: 21995418
17.  Outcome Prediction of Children with Neuroblastoma using a Multigene Expression Signature, a Retrospective SIOPEN/COG/GPOH Study 
The lancet oncology  2009;10(7):663-671.
More accurate prognostic assessment of patients with neuroblastoma is required to improve the choice of risk-related therapy. The aim of this study is to develop and validate a gene expression signature for improved outcome prediction.
Fifty-nine genes were carefully selected based on an innovative data-mining strategy and profiled in the largest neuroblastoma patient series (n=579) to date using RT-qPCR starting from only 20 ng of RNA. A multigene expression signature was built using 30 training samples, tested on 313 test samples and subsequently validated in a blind study on an independent set of 236 additional tumours.
The signature accurately classifies patients with respect to overall and progression-free survival (p<0·0001). The signature has a performance, sensitivity, and specificity of 85·4% (95%CI: 77·7–93·2), 84·4% (95%CI: 66·5–94·1), and 86·5% (95%CI: 81·1–90·6), respectively to predict patient outcome. Multivariate analysis indicates that the signature is a significant independent predictor after controlling for currently used riskfactors. Patients with high molecular risk have a higher risk to die from disease and for relapse/progression than patients with low molecular risk (odds ratio of 19·32 (95%CI: 6·50–57·43) and 3·96 (95%CI: 1·97–7·97) for OS and PFS, respectively). Patients with increased risk for adverse outcome can also be identified within the current treatment groups demonstrating the potential of this signature for improved clinical management. These results were confirmed in the validation study in which the signature was also independently statistically significant in a model adjusted for MYCN status, age, INSS stage, ploidy, INPC grade of differentiation, and MKI. The high patient/gene ratio (579/59) underlies the observed statistical power and robustness.
A 59-gene expression signature predicts outcome of neuroblastoma patients with high accuracy. The signature is an independent risk predictor, identifying patients with increased risk in the current clinical risk groups. The applied method and signature is suitable for routine lab testing and ready for evaluation in prospective studies.
The Belgian Foundation Against Cancer, found of public interest (project SCIE2006-25), the Children Cancer Fund Ghent, the Belgian Society of Paediatric Haematology and Oncology, the Belgian Kid’s Fund and the Fondation Nuovo-Soldati (JV), the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (KDP, JH), the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (grant number: G•0198•08), the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders, Strategisch basisonderzoek (IWT-SBO 60848), the Fondation Fournier Majoie pour l’Innovation, the Instituto Carlos III,RD 06/0020/0102 Spain, the Italian Neuroblastoma Foundation, the European Community under the FP6 (project: STREP: EET-pipeline, number: 037260), and the Belgian program of Interuniversity Poles of Attraction, initiated by the Belgian State, Prime Minister's Office, Science Policy Programming.
PMCID: PMC3045079  PMID: 19515614
18.  Transcribed-ultra conserved region expression profiling from low-input total RNA 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:149.
Ultra Conserved Regions (UCRs) are a class of 481 noncoding sequences located in both intra- and inter-genic regions of the genome. The recent findings that they are significantly altered in adult chronic lymphocytic leukemias, carcinomas, and pediatric neuroblastomas lead to the hypothesis that UCRs may play a role in tumorigenesis.
We present a novel application of Ribo-SPIA™ isothermal linear amplification of minute RNA quantities for quantifying Transcribed-UCR (T-UCR) expression by quantitative PCR. Direct comparison of non-amplified with amplified cDNA in two neuroblastoma cell lines showed that the amplification approach increases sensitivity and repeatability in T-UCR quantification. It is noteworthy that the Ribo-SPIA™ step allowed us to analyze all 481 T-UCRs by using 150 ng of RNA, while introducing a minimal bias and preserving the magnitude of relative expression. Only the less abundant T-UCRs have high intra-assay variability, consistently with the Poisson distribution statistics and stochastic effects on PCR repeatability.
We demonstrated that the quantification procedure shown here is an accurate and reliable technique for genome-wide non coding gene (i.e., UCRs) profiling using small amounts of RNA. This issue is particularly important because studies of transcription regulation are increasingly conducted in small homogeneous samples, such as laser capture microdissected or sorted cell populations.
PMCID: PMC2838852  PMID: 20199688
19.  Transcribed-ultra conserved region expression is associated with outcome in high-risk neuroblastoma 
BMC Cancer  2009;9:441.
Neuroblastoma is the most common, pediatric, extra-cranial, malignant solid tumor. Despite multimodal therapeutic protocols, outcome for children with a high-risk clinical phenotype remains poor, with long-term survival still less than 40%. Hereby, we evaluated the potential of non-coding RNA expression to predict outcome in high-risk, stage 4 neuroblastoma.
We analyzed expression of 481 Ultra Conserved Regions (UCRs) by reverse transcription-quantitative real-time PCR and of 723 microRNAs by microarrays in 34 high-risk, stage 4 neuroblastoma patients.
First, the comparison of 8 short- versus 12 long-term survivors showed that 54 UCRs were significantly (P < 0.0491) over-expressed in the former group. For 48 Ultra Conserved Region (UCRs) the expression levels above the cut-off values defined by ROC curves were strongly associated with good-outcome (OS: 0.0001

Our pilot study suggests that a deregulation of the microRNA/T-UCR network may play an important role in the pathogenesis of neuroblastoma. After further validation on a larger independent set of samples, such findings may be applied as the first T-UCR prognostic signature for high-risk neuroblastoma patients.
PMCID: PMC2804711  PMID: 20003513
BMC Cancer  2009;9:436.
TrkA (encoded by NTRK1 gene), the high-affinity tyrosine kinase receptor for neurotrophins, is involved in neural crest cell differentiation. Its expression has been reported to be associated with a favourable prognosis in neuroblastoma. Therefore, the entire coding sequence of NTRK1 gene has been analysed in order to identify mutations and/or polymorphisms which may alter TrkA receptor expression.
DNA was extracted from neuroblastomas of 55 Polish and 114 Italian patients and from peripheral blood leukocytes of 158 healthy controls. Denaturing High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (DHPLC) and Single-Strand Conformation Polymorphism (SSCP) analysis were used to screen for sequence variants. Genetic changes were confirmed by direct sequencing and correlated with biological and clinical data.
Three previously reported and nine new single nucleotide polymorphisms were detected. c.1810C>T polymorphism present in 8.7% of cases was found to be an independent marker of disease recurrence (OR = 13.3; p = 0.009) associated with lower survival rates (HR = 4.45 p = 0.041). c.1810C>T polymorphism's unfavourable prognostic value was most significant in patients under 18 months of age with no MYCN amplification (HR = 26; p = 0.008). In-silico analysis of the c.1810C>T polymorphism suggests that the substitution of the corresponding amino acid residue within the conservative region of the tyrosine kinase domain might theoretically interfere with the functioning of the TrkA protein.
NTRK1 c.1810C>T polymorphism appears to be a new independent prognostic factor of poor outcome in neuroblastoma, especially in children under 18 months of age with no MYCN amplification.
PMCID: PMC2800120  PMID: 20003389
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

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