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1.  Expression of two parental imprinted miRNAs improves the risk stratification of neuroblastoma patients 
Cancer Medicine  2014;3(4):998-1009.
Age at diagnosis, stage, and MYCN amplification are the cornerstones of the risk-stratification score of neuroblastoma that enables defining patients at low- and high risk. Refinement of this stratification is needed to optimize standard treatment and to plan future clinical trials. We investigated whether two parental imprinted miRNAs (miR-487b and miR-516a-5p) may lead to a risk score with a better discrimination. Expression levels of maternal miR-487b and paternal miR-516a-5p were determined using quantitative RT-PCR both for 231 neuroblastoma tumors (derivation set) and 101 independent neuroblastoma tumors (validation set). Survival outcomes were overall survival (OS) and disease-free survival (DFS). Multivariable Cox models were developed from derivation set and their performance evaluated using Akaike's information criterion (AIC) (goodness-of-fit) and time-dependent area under curves (discrimination). The selected model was validated using internal and external validation. The prognostic model including current prognostic factors plus miR-487b, miR-516a-5p, and interaction between two miRNAs was selected. Performance of this model was better in terms of both predictive ability (smallest AIC) and discrimination power (AUC close to 0.70). This model identifies three risk groups: high (3), intermediate (2), and low (1). Hazard ratios (HR) across risk groups were HR2/1 = 6.3 (2.7–14.6), HR3/1 = 14.8 (7.2–30.2) for OS and HR2/1 = 2.8 (1.5–5.4), HR3/1 = 7.2 (3.9–13.4) for DFS. The rank between these three risk groups was maintained and validated when performing internal and external validation. Expression of maternal miR-487b and paternal miR-516a-5p improves the risk stratification. This better discrimination at diagnosis is of clinical utility both for current and future treatments of neuroblastoma patients.
PMCID: PMC4303168  PMID: 24931722
miRNA clusters; neuroblastoma; parental imprinting; prognostic model; risk score; survival outcomes
2.  WNT5A Encodes Two Isoforms with Distinct Functions in Cancers 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e80526.
WNT5A, a member of the WNT family of secreted lipid-modified glycoproteins, is a critical regulator of a host of developmental processes, including limb formation, lung morphogenesis, intestinal elongation and mammary gland development. Altered WNT5A expression has been associated with a number of cancers. Interestingly, in certain types of cancers, such as hematological malignancies and colorectal carcinoma, WNT5A is inactivated and exerts a tumor suppressive function, while in other cancers, such as melanoma and gastric carcinoma, WNT5A is overexpressed and promotes tumor progression. The mechanism by which WNT5A achieves these distinct activities in cancers is poorly understood. Here, we provide evidence that the WNT5A gene produces two protein isoforms, WNT5A-long (WNT5A-L) and WNT5A-short (WNT5A-S). Amino-terminal sequencing and a WNT5A-L specific antibody demonstrate that the mature and secreted isoforms are distinct, with WNT5A-L carrying an additional 18 N-terminal amino acids. Biochemical analysis indicates that both purified proteins are similar with respect to their stability, hydrophobicity and WNT/β-catenin signaling activity. Nonetheless, modulation of these two WNT5A isoforms, either through ectopic expression or knockdown, demonstrates that they exert distinct activities in cancer cell lines: while WNT5A-L inhibits proliferation of tumor cell lines, WNT5A-S promotes their growth. Finally, we show that expression of these two WNT5A isoforms is altered in breast and cervix carcinomas, as well as in the most aggressive neuroblastoma tumors. In these cancers, WNT5A-L is frequently down-regulated, whereas WNT5A-S is found overexpressed in a significant fraction of tumors. Altogether, our study provides evidence that the distinct activities of WNT5A in cancer can be attributed to the production of two WNT5A isoforms.
PMCID: PMC3832467  PMID: 24260410
3.  ALK germline mutations in patients with neuroblastoma: a rare and weakly penetrant syndrome 
Neuroblastic tumours may occur in a predisposition context. Two main genes are involved: PHOX2B, observed in familial cases and frequently associated with other neurocristopathies (Ondine's and Hirschsprung's disease); and ALK, mostly in familial tumours. We have assessed the frequency of mutations of these two genes in patients with a presumable higher risk of predisposition. We sequenced both genes in 26 perinatal cases (prebirth and <1 month of age, among which 10 were multifocal), 16 multifocal postnatal (>1 month) cases, 3 pairs of affected relatives and 8 patients with multiple malignancies. The whole coding sequences of the two genes were analysed in tumour and/or constitutional DNAs. We found three ALK germline mutations, all in a context of multifocal tumours. Two mutations (T1151R and R1192P) were inherited and shared by several unaffected patients, thus illustrating an incomplete penetrance. Younger age at tumour onset did not seem to offer a relevant selection criterion for ALK analyses. Conversely, multifocal tumours might be the most to benefit from the genetic screening. Finally, no PHOX2B germline mutation was found in this series. In conclusion, ALK deleterious mutations are rare events in patients with a high probability of predisposition. Other predisposing genes remain to be discovered.
PMCID: PMC3283184  PMID: 22071890
ALK; neuroblastoma; predisposition
4.  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
5.  p21Waf1 expression is regulated by nuclear intermediate filament vimentin in neuroblastoma 
BMC Cancer  2010;10:473.
Human neuroblastoma (NB) cell lines may present with either one of the so-called S-and N-subtypes. We have previously reported a strong correlation between protein expression levels of vimentin, an S-subtype marker, and the p21Waf1 cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor. We here investigated whether this correlation extend to the mRNA level in NB cell lines as well as in patients' tumors. We also further explored the relationship between expression of vimentin and p21, by asking whether vimentin could regulate p21 expression.
Vimentin and p21 mRNA levels in NB cell lines as well as in patients' tumors (n = 77) were quantified using Q-PCR. Q-PCR data obtained from tumors of high risk NB patients (n = 40) were analyzed in relation with the overall survival using the Log-rank Kaplan-Meier estimation. siRNA-mediated depletion or overexpression of vimentin in highly or low expressing vimentin cell lines, respectively, followed by protein expression and promoter activation assays were used to assess the role of vimentin in modulating p21 expression.
We extend the significant correlation between vimentin and p21 expression to the mRNA level in NB cell lines as well as in patients' tumors. Overall survival analysis from Q-PCR data obtained from tumors of high risk patients suggests that lower levels of p21 expression could be associated with a poorer outcome. Our data additionally indicate that the correlation observed between p21 and vimentin expression levels results from p21 transcriptional activity being regulated by vimentin. Indeed, downregulating vimentin resulted in a significant decrease in p21 mRNA and protein expression as well as in p21 promoter activity. Conversely, overexpressing vimentin triggered an increase in p21 promoter activity in cells with a nuclear expression of vimentin.
Our results suggest that p21 mRNA tumor expression level could represent a refined prognostic factor for high risk NB patients. Our data also show that vimentin regulates p21 transcription; this is the first demonstration of a gene regulating function for this type III-intermediate filament.
PMCID: PMC2939553  PMID: 20813048
6.  Lobular and ductal carcinomas of the breast have distinct genomic and expression profiles 
Oncogene  2008;27(40):5359-5372.
Invasive ductal carcinomas (IDCs) and invasive lobular carcinomas (ILCs) are the two major pathological types of breast cancer. Epidemiological and histoclinical data suggest biological differences, but little is known about the molecular alterations involved in ILCs. We undertook a comparative large-scale study by both array-CGH and cDNA microarray of a set of 50 breast tumors (21 classic ILCs and 29 IDCs) selected on homogeneous histoclinical criteria. Results were validated on independent tumor sets, as well as by quantitative RT-PCR. ILCs and IDCs presented differences at both the genomic and expression levels with ILCs being less rearranged and heterogeneous than IDCs. Supervised analysis defined a 75-BACs signature discriminating accurately ILCs from IDCs. Expression profiles identified two subgroups of ILCs: typical ILCs (~50%), which were homogeneous and displayed a normal-like molecular pattern, and atypical ILCs, more heterogeneous with features intermediate between ILCs and IDCs. Supervised analysis identified a 75-gene expression signature that discriminated ILCs from IDCs, with many genes involved in cell adhesion, motility, apoptosis, protein folding, extracellular matrix, and protein phosphorylation. Although ILCs and IDCs share common alterations, our data show that ILCs and IDCs could be distinguished on the basis of their genomic and expression profiles suggesting that they evolve along distinct genetic pathways.
PMCID: PMC2902854  PMID: 18490921
Breast Neoplasms; genetics; metabolism; pathology; Cadherins; genetics; metabolism; Carcinoma, Ductal, Breast; genetics; metabolism; pathology; Carcinoma, Lobular; genetics; metabolism; pathology; Chromosomes, Artificial, Bacterial; Female; Gene Expression Profiling; Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic; Humans; Mutation; genetics; Nucleic Acid Hybridization; Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis; RNA, Messenger; genetics; metabolism; RNA, Neoplasm; genetics; metabolism; Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction; Tumor Suppressor Protein p53; genetics; breast cancer; DNA microarray; genetic profiles; array-CGH
7.  CDK Inhibitors Roscovitine and CR8 Trigger Mcl-1 Down-Regulation and Apoptotic Cell Death in Neuroblastoma Cells 
Genes & Cancer  2010;1(4):369-380.
Neuroblastoma (NB), the most frequent extracranial solid tumor of children accounting for nearly 15% of all childhood cancer mortality, displays overexpression of antiapoptotic Bcl-2 and Mcl-1 in aggressive forms of the disease. The clinical phase 2 drug roscovitine (CYC202, seliciclib), a relatively selective inhibitor of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs), and CR8, a recently developed and more potent analog, induce concentration-dependent apoptotic cell death of NB cells (average IC50 values: 24.2 µM and 0.4 µM for roscovitine and CR8, respectively). Both roscovitine and CR8 trigger rapid down-regulation of the short-lived survival factor Mcl-1 in the 9 investigated human NB cell lines. This effect was further analyzed in the human SH-SY5Y NB cell line. Down-regulation of Mcl-1 appears to depend on inhibition of CDKs rather than on interaction of roscovitine and CR8 with their secondary targets. CR8 is an adenosine triphosphate-competitive inhibitor of CDK9, and the structure of a CDK9/cyclin T/CR8 complex is described. Mcl-1 down-regulation occurs both at the mRNA and protein levels. This effect can be accounted for by a reduction in Mcl-1 protein synthesis, under stable Mcl-1 degradation conditions. Mcl-1 down-regulation is accompanied by a transient increase in free Noxa, a proapoptotic factor. Mcl-1 down-regulation occurs independently of the presence or up-regulation of p53 and of the MYCN status. Taken together, these results suggest that the clinical drug roscovitine and its novel analog CR8 induce apoptotic tumor cell death by down-regulating Mcl-1, a key survival factor expressed in all NB cell lines. CDK inhibition may thus constitute a new approach to treat refractory high-risk NB.
PMCID: PMC3092200  PMID: 21779453
neuroblastoma; Mcl-1; cyclin-dependent kinase; roscovitine; CR8
8.  Neurotrophin-3 production promotes human neuroblastoma cell survival by inhibiting TrkC-induced apoptosis 
Tropomyosin-related kinase receptor C (TrkC) is a neurotrophin receptor with tyrosine kinase activity that was expected to be oncogenic. However, it has several characteristics of a tumor suppressor: its expression in tumors has often been associated with good prognosis; and it was recently demonstrated to be a dependence receptor, transducing different positive signals in the presence of ligand but inducing apoptosis in the absence of ligand. Here we show that the TrkC ligand neurotrophin-3 (NT-3) is upregulated in a large fraction of aggressive human neuroblastomas (NBs) and that it blocks TrkC-induced apoptosis of human NB cell lines, consistent with the idea that TrkC is a dependence receptor. Functionally, both siRNA knockdown of NT-3 expression and incubation with a TrkC-specific blocking antibody triggered apoptosis in human NB cell lines. Importantly, disruption of the NT-3 autocrine loop in malignant human neuroblasts triggered in vitro NB cell death and inhibited tumor growth and metastasis in both a chick and a mouse xenograft model. Thus, we believe that our data suggest that NT-3/TrkC disruption is a putative alternative targeted therapeutic strategy for the treatment of NB.
PMCID: PMC2827960  PMID: 20160348
9.  Netrin-1 acts as a survival factor for aggressive neuroblastoma 
Neuroblastoma (NB), the most frequent solid tumor of early childhood, is diagnosed as a disseminated disease in >60% of cases, and several lines of evidence support the resistance to apoptosis as a prerequisite for NB progression. We show that autocrine production of netrin-1, a multifunctional laminin-related molecule, conveys a selective advantage in tumor growth and dissemination in aggressive NB, as it blocks the proapoptotic activity of the UNC5H netrin-1 dependence receptors. We show that such netrin-1 up-regulation is a potential marker for poor prognosis in stage 4S and, more generally, in NB stage 4 diagnosed infants. Moreover, we propose that interference with the netrin-1 autocrine loop in malignant neuroblasts could represent an alternative therapeutic strategy, as disruption of this loop triggers in vitro NB cell death and inhibits NB metastasis in avian and mouse models.
PMCID: PMC2715117  PMID: 19349462
10.  Fenretinide-induced caspase-8 activation and apoptosis in an established model of metastatic neuroblastoma 
BMC Cancer  2009;9:97.
Resistance of high-risk metastatic neuroblastoma (HR-NB) to high dose chemotherapy (HD-CT) raises a major therapeutic challenge in pediatric oncology. Patients are treated by maintenance CT. For some patients, an adjuvant retinoid therapy is proposed, such as the synthetic retinoid fenretinide (4-HPR), an apoptotic inducer. Recent studies demonstrated that NB metastasis process is enhanced by the loss of caspase-8 involved in the Integrin-Mediated Death (IMD) process. As the role of caspase-8 appears to be critical in preventing metastasis, we aimed at studying the effect of 4-HPR on caspase-8 expression in metastatic neuroblasts.
We used the human IGR-N-91 MYCN-amplified NB experimental model, able to disseminate in vivo from the primary nude mouse tumor xenograft (PTX) into myocardium (Myoc) and bone marrow (BM) of the animal. NB cell lines, i.e., IGR-N-91 and SH-EP, were treated with various doses of Fenretinide (4-HPR), then cytotoxicity was analyzed by MTS proliferation assay, apoptosis by the propidium staining method, gene or protein expressions by RT-PCR and immunoblotting and caspases activity by colorimetric protease assays.
The IGR-N-91 parental cells do not express detectable caspase-8. However the PTX cells established from the primary tumor in the mouse, are caspase-8 positive. In contrast, metastatic BM and Myoc cells show a clear down-regulation of the caspase-8 expression. In parallel, the caspases -3, -9, -10, Bcl-2, or Bax expressions were unchanged. Our data show that in BM, compared to PTX cells, 4-HPR up-regulates caspase-8 expression that parallels a higher sensitivity to apoptotic cell death. Stable caspase-8-silenced SH-EP cells appear more resistant to 4-HPR-induced cell death compared to control SH-EP cells. Moreover, 4-HPR synergizes with drugs since apoptosis is restored in VP16- or TRAIL-resistant-BM cells. These results demonstrate that 4-HPR in up-regulating caspase-8 expression, restores and induces apoptotic cell death in metastatic neuroblasts through caspase-8 activation.
This study provides basic clues for using fenretinide in clinical treatment of HR-NB patients. Moreover, since 4-HPR induces cell death in caspase-8 negative NB, it also challenges the concept of including 4-HPR in the induction of CT of these patients.
PMCID: PMC2670318  PMID: 19331667
11.  p73α isoforms drive opposite transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation of MYCN expression in neuroblastoma cells 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(13):4222-4232.
MYCN activation, mainly by gene amplification, is one of the most frequent molecular events in neuroblastoma (NB) oncogenesis, and is associated with increased malignancy and decreased neuronal differentiation propensity. The frequency of concomitant loss of heterozygosity at the 1p36.3 locus, which harbours the p53 anti-oncogene homologue TP73, indicates that MYCN and p73 alterations may cooperate in the pathogenesis of NB. We have previously shown that p73 isoforms are deregulated in NB tumours and that TAp73 co-operates synergistically with p53 for apoptosis of NB cells, whereas ΔNp73 activates the expression of neuronal differentiation genes such as BTG2. Herein, using both ectopic expression and RNA interference-mediated silencing of p73 in MYCN amplified NB cells, we show that p73α isoforms inhibit MYCN expression at both transcript and protein levels, in spite of transactivator effects on MYCN promoter. To explain this paradox, we found that TAp73α exerts negative post-transcriptional effects leading to reduced MYCN mRNA stability. RNA immunoprecipitation experiments suggest that this dominant inhibitory post-transcriptional effect could be due to an interaction between the p73 protein and MYCN mRNA, a hypothesis also raised for the regulation of certain genes by the p53 protein.
PMCID: PMC2490757  PMID: 18583365
12.  Expression of C-terminal deleted p53 isoforms in neuroblastoma 
Nucleic Acids Research  2006;34(19):5603-5612.
The tumor suppressor gene, p53, is rarely mutated in neuroblastomas (NB) at the time of diagnosis, but its dysfunction could result from a nonfunctional conformation or cytoplasmic sequestration of the wild-type p53 protein. However, p53 mutation, when it occurs, is found in NB tumors with drug resistance acquired over the course of chemotherapy. As yet, no study has been devoted to the function of the specific p53 mutants identified in NB cells. This study includes characterization and functional analysis of p53 expressed in eight cell lines: three wild-type cell lines and five cell lines harboring mutations. We identified two transcription-inactive p53 variants truncated in the C-terminus, one of which corresponded to the p53β isoform recently identified in normal tissue by Bourdon et al. [J. C. Bourdon, K. Fernandes, F. Murray-Zmijewski, G. Liu, A. Diot, D. P. Xirodimas, M. K. Saville and D. P. Lane (2005) Genes Dev., 19, 2122–2137]. Our results show, for the first time, that the p53β isoform is the only p53 species to be endogenously expressed in the human NB cell line SK-N-AS, suggesting that the C-terminus truncated p53 isoforms may play an important role in NB tumor development.
PMCID: PMC1636465  PMID: 17028100
13.  Detecting single DNA copy number variations in complex genomes using one nanogram of starting DNA and BAC-array CGH 
Nucleic Acids Research  2004;32(13):e112.
Comparative genomic hybridization to bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC)-arrays (array-CGH) is a highly efficient technique, allowing the simultaneous measurement of genomic DNA copy number at hundreds or thousands of loci, and the reliable detection of local one-copy-level variations. We report a genome-wide amplification method allowing the same measurement sensitivity, using 1 ng of starting genomic DNA, instead of the classical 1 μg usually necessary. Using a discrete series of DNA fragments, we defined the parameters adapted to the most faithful ligation-mediated PCR amplification and the limits of the technique. The optimized protocol allows a 3000-fold DNA amplification, retaining the quantitative characteristics of the initial genome. Validation of the amplification procedure, using DNA from 10 tumour cell lines hybridized to BAC-arrays of 1500 spots, showed almost perfectly superimposed ratios for the non-amplified and amplified DNAs. Correlation coefficients of 0.96 and 0.99 were observed for regions of low-copy-level variations and all regions, respectively (including in vivo amplified oncogenes). Finally, labelling DNA using two nucleotides bearing the same fluorophore led to a significant increase in reproducibility and to the correct detection of one-copy gain or loss in >90% of the analysed data, even for pseudotriploid tumour genomes.
PMCID: PMC506828  PMID: 15284333

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