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1.  Chromosomal and miRNA Expression Patterns Reveal Biologically Distinct Subgroups of 11q− Neuroblastoma 
The purpose of this study was to further define the biology of the 11q− neuroblastoma tumor subgroup by the integration of aCGH with miRNA expression profiling data to determine if improved patient stratification is possible.
Experimental Design
A set of primary neuroblastoma (n=160) which was broadly representative of all genetic subtypes was analyzed by aCGH and for the expression of 430 miRNAs. A 15 miRNA expression signature previously demonstrated to be predictive of clinical outcome was used to analyze an independent cohort of 11q− tumors (n=37).
Loss of 4p and gain of 7q occurred at a significantly higher frequency in the 11q−tumors, further defining the genetic characteristics of this subtype. The 11q− tumors could be split into two subgroups using a miRNA expression survival signature which differed significantly in both clinical outcome and the overall frequency of large scale genomic imbalances, with the poor survival subgroup having significantly more imbalances. MiRNAs from the expression signature which were up-regulated in unfavorable tumors were predicted to target down-regulated genes from a published mRNA expression classifier of clinical outcome at a higher than expected frequency, indicating the miRNAs might contribute to the regulation of genes within the signature.
We demonstrate that two distinct biological subtypes of neuroblastoma with loss of 11q occur which differ in their miRNA expression profiles, frequency of segmental imbalances and clinical outcome. A miRNA expression signature, combined with an analysis of segmental imbalances, provides greater prediction of EFS and OS outcomes than 11q status by itself, improving patient stratification.
PMCID: PMC2880207  PMID: 20406844
aCGH; MYCN; neuroblastoma; miRNA
2.  MicroRNA-34a is a potent tumor suppressor molecule in vivo in neuroblastoma 
BMC Cancer  2011;11:33.
Neuroblastoma is a paediatric cancer which originates from precursor cells of the sympathetic nervous system and accounts for 15% of childhood cancer mortalities. With regards to the role of miRNAs in neuroblastoma, miR-34a, mapping to a chromosome 1p36 region that is commonly deleted, has been found to act as a tumor suppressor through targeting of numerous genes associated with cell proliferation and apoptosis.
A synthetic miR-34a (or negative control) precursor molecule was transfected into NB1691luc and SK-N-ASluc neuroblastoma cells. Quantitative PCR was used to verify increased miR-34a levels in NB1691luc and SK-N-ASluc cell lines prior to in vitro and in vivo analysis. In vitro analysis of the effects of miR-34a over expression on cell growth, cell cycle and phosphoprotein activation in signal transduction pathways was performed. Neuroblastoma cells over expressing miR-34a were injected retroperitoneally into immunocompromised CB17-SCID mice and tumor burden was assessed over a 21 day period by measuring bioluminescence (photons/sec/cm2).
Over expression of miR-34a in both NB1691luc and SK-N-ASluc neuroblastoma cell lines led to a significant decrease in cell number relative to premiR-negative control treated cells over a 72 hour period. Flow cytometry results indicated that miR-34a induced cell cycle arrest and subsequent apoptosis activation. Phosphoprotein analysis highlighted key elements involved in signal transduction, whose activation was dysregulated as a result of miR-34a introduction into cells. As a potential mechanism of miR-34a action on phosphoprotein levels, we demonstrate that miR-34a over-expression results in a significant reduction of MAP3K9 mRNA and protein levels. Although MAP3K9 is a predicted target of miR-34a, direct targeting could not be validated with luciferase reporter assays. Despite this fact, any functional effects of reduced MAP3K9 expression as a result of miR-34a would be expected to be similar regardless of the mechanism involved. Most notably, in vivo studies showed that tumor growth was significantly repressed after exogenous miR-34a administration in retroperitoneal neuroblastoma tumors.
We demonstrate for the first time that miR-34a significantly reduces tumor growth in an in vivo orthotopic murine model of neuroblastoma and identified novel effects that miR-34a has on phospho-activation of key proteins involved with apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC3038978  PMID: 21266077
3.  Global MYCN Transcription Factor Binding Analysis in Neuroblastoma Reveals Association with Distinct E-Box Motifs and Regions of DNA Hypermethylation 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(12):e8154.
Neuroblastoma, a cancer derived from precursor cells of the sympathetic nervous system, is a major cause of childhood cancer related deaths. The single most important prognostic indicator of poor clinical outcome in this disease is genomic amplification of MYCN, a member of a family of oncogenic transcription factors.
We applied MYCN chromatin immunoprecipitation to microarrays (ChIP-chip) using MYCN amplified/non-amplified cell lines as well as a conditional knockdown cell line to determine the distribution of MYCN binding sites within all annotated promoter regions.
Assessment of E-box usage within consistently positive MYCN binding sites revealed a predominance for the CATGTG motif (p<0.0016), with significant enrichment of additional motifs CATTTG, CATCTG, CAACTG in the MYCN amplified state. For cell lines over-expressing MYCN, gene ontology analysis revealed enrichment for the binding of MYCN at promoter regions of numerous molecular functional groups including DNA helicases and mRNA transcriptional regulation. In order to evaluate MYCN binding with respect to other genomic features, we determined the methylation status of all annotated CpG islands and promoter sequences using methylated DNA immunoprecipitation (MeDIP). The integration of MYCN ChIP-chip and MeDIP data revealed a highly significant positive correlation between MYCN binding and DNA hypermethylation. This association was also detected in regions of hemizygous loss, indicating that the observed association occurs on the same homologue. In summary, these findings suggest that MYCN binding occurs more commonly at CATGTG as opposed to the classic CACGTG E-box motif, and that disease associated over expression of MYCN leads to aberrant binding to additional weaker affinity E-box motifs in neuroblastoma. The co-localization of MYCN binding and DNA hypermethylation further supports the dual role of MYCN, namely that of a classical transcription factor affecting the activity of individual genes, and that of a mediator of global chromatin structure.
PMCID: PMC2781550  PMID: 19997598
4.  Widespread Dysregulation of MiRNAs by MYCN Amplification and Chromosomal Imbalances in Neuroblastoma: Association of miRNA Expression with Survival 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(11):e7850.
MiRNAs regulate gene expression at a post-transcriptional level and their dysregulation can play major roles in the pathogenesis of many different forms of cancer, including neuroblastoma, an often fatal paediatric cancer originating from precursor cells of the sympathetic nervous system. We have analyzed a set of neuroblastoma (n = 145) that is broadly representative of the genetic subtypes of this disease for miRNA expression (430 loci by stem-loop RT qPCR) and for DNA copy number alterations (array CGH) to assess miRNA involvement in disease pathogenesis. The tumors were stratified and then randomly split into a training set (n = 96) and a validation set (n = 49) for data analysis. Thirty-seven miRNAs were significantly over- or under-expressed in MYCN amplified tumors relative to MYCN single copy tumors, indicating a potential role for the MYCN transcription factor in either the direct or indirect dysregulation of these loci. In addition, we also determined that there was a highly significant correlation between miRNA expression levels and DNA copy number, indicating a role for large-scale genomic imbalances in the dysregulation of miRNA expression. In order to directly assess whether miRNA expression was predictive of clinical outcome, we used the Random Forest classifier to identify miRNAs that were most significantly associated with poor overall patient survival and developed a 15 miRNA signature that was predictive of overall survival with 72.7% sensitivity and 86.5% specificity in the validation set of tumors. We conclude that there is widespread dysregulation of miRNA expression in neuroblastoma tumors caused by both over-expression of the MYCN transcription factor and by large-scale chromosomal imbalances. MiRNA expression patterns are also predicative of clinical outcome, highlighting the potential for miRNA mediated diagnostics and therapeutics.
PMCID: PMC2773120  PMID: 19924232

Results 1-4 (4)