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1.  Modulation of Neuroblastoma Disease Pathogenesis By An Extensive Network of Epigenetically Regulated MicroRNAs 
Oncogene  2012;32(24):2927-2936.
MicroRNAs contribute to the pathogenesis of many forms of cancer, including the pediatric cancer neuroblastoma, but the underlying mechanisms leading to altered miRNA expression are often unknown. Here, a novel integrated approach for analyzing DNA methylation coupled with miRNA and mRNA expression data sets identified 67 epigenetically regulated miRNA in neuroblastoma. A large proportion (42%) of these miRNAs were associated with poor patient survival when under-expressed in tumors. Moreover, we demonstrate that this panel of epigenetically silenced miRNAs targets a large set of genes that are over-expressed in tumors from patients with poor survival in a highly redundant manner. The genes targeted by the epigenetically regulated miRNAs are enriched for a number of biological processes, including regulation of cell differentiation. Functional studies involving ectopic over-expression of several of the epigenetically silenced miRNAs had a negative impact on neuroblastoma cell viability, providing further support to the concept that inactivation of these miRNAs is important for neuroblastoma disease pathogenesis. One locus, miR-340, induced either differentiation or apoptosis in a cell context dependent manner, indicating a tumor suppressive function for this miRNA. Intriguingly, it was determined that miR-340 is up-regulated by demethylation of an upstream genomic region that occurs during the process of neuroblastoma cell differentiation induced by all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA). Further biological studies of miR-340 revealed that it directly represses the SOX2 transcription factor by targeting of its 3’ UTR, explaining the mechanism by which SOX2 is down-regulated by ATRA. Although SOX2 contributes to the maintenance of stem cells in an undifferentiated state, we demonstrate that miR-340 mediated down-regulation of SOX2 is not required for ATRA induced differentiation to occur. In summary, our results exemplify the dynamic nature of the miRNA epigenome and identify a remarkable network of miRNA/mRNA interactions that significantly contribute to neuroblastoma disease pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3477279  PMID: 22797059
miRNA; methylation; tumor suppressor; neuroblastoma; SOX2
2.  MicroRNA and DNA Methylation Alterations Mediating Retinoic Acid Induced Neuroblastoma Cell Differentiation 
Seminars in cancer biology  2011;21(4):283-290.
Many neuroblastoma cell lines can be induced to differentiate into a mature neuronal cell type with retinoic acid and other compounds, providing an important model system for elucidating signalling pathways involved in this highly complex process. Recently, it has become apparent that miRNAs, which act as regulators of gene expression at a post-transcriptional level, are differentially expressed in differentiating cells and play important roles governing many aspects of this process. This includes the down-regulation of DNA methytransferases that cause the de-methylation and transcriptional activation of numerous protein coding gene sequences. The purpose of this article is to review involvement of miRNAs and DNA methylation alterations in the process of neuroblastoma cell differentiation. A thorough understanding of miRNA and genetic pathways regulating neuroblastoma cell differentiation potentially could lead to targeted therapies for this disease.
PMCID: PMC3206983  PMID: 21771658
ATRA; MYCN; neuroblastoma; microRNA; NCOR2; differentiation; NOS1; DNA methylation
3.  MicroRNA Mediates DNA De-methylation Events Triggered By Retinoic Acid During Neuroblastoma Cell Differentiation 
Cancer research  2010;70(20):7874-7881.
Neuroblastoma is an often fatal pediatric cancer arising from precursor cells of the sympathetic nervous system. 13-Cis retinoic acid is included in the treatment regime for patients with high-risk disease, and a similar derivative, all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) causes neuroblastoma cell lines to undergo differentiation. The molecular signaling pathways involved with ATRA induced differentiation are complex, and the role that DNA methylation changes might play are unknown. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the genome-wide effects of ATRA on DNA methylation using methylated DNA immunoprecipitation applied to microarrays representing all known promoter and CpG islands. 402 gene promoters became demethylated, while 88 were hypermethylated post-ATRA. mRNA expression microarrays revealed that 82 of the demethylated genes were over-expressed by >2 fold, while 13 of the hyper methylated genes were under-expressed. Gene ontology analysis indicated that de-methylated and re-expressed genes were enriched for signal transduction pathways, including NOS1, which is required for neural cell differentiation. As a potential mechanism for the DNA methylation changes, we demonstrate the down-regulation of methyltransferases, DNMT1 and DNMT3B, along with the up-regulation of endogenous microRNAs targeting them. Ectopic over-expression of miR-152, targeting DNMT1, also negatively impacted cell invasiveness and anchorage independent growth, contributing in part to the differentiated phenotype. We conclude that functionally important, miRNA-mediated DNA de-methylation changes contribute to the process of ATRA induced differentiation resulting in the activation of NOS1, a critical determinant of neural cell differentiation. Our findings illustrate the plasticity and dynamic nature of the epigenome during cancer cell differentiation.
PMCID: PMC2955783  PMID: 20841484
DNA Hypermethylation; MYCN; ATRA; Neuroblastoma; miRNA
4.  Co-Localization of the Oncogenic Transcription Factor MYCN and the DNA Methyl Binding Protein MeCP2 at Genomic Sites in Neuroblastoma 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e21436.
MYCN is a transcription factor that is expressed during the development of the neural crest and its dysregulation plays a major role in the pathogenesis of pediatric cancers such as neuroblastoma, medulloblastoma and rhabdomyosarcoma. MeCP2 is a CpG methyl binding protein which has been associated with a number of cancers and developmental disorders, particularly Rett syndrome.
Methods and Findings
Using an integrative global genomics approach involving chromatin immunoprecipitation applied to microarrays, we have determined that MYCN and MeCP2 co-localize to gene promoter regions, as well as inter/intragenic sites, within the neuroblastoma genome (MYCN amplified Kelly cells) at high frequency (70.2% of MYCN sites were also positive for MeCP2). Intriguingly, the frequency of co-localization was significantly less at promoter regions exhibiting substantial hypermethylation (8.7%), as determined by methylated DNA immunoprecipitation (MeDIP) applied to the same microarrays. Co-immunoprecipitation of MYCN using an anti-MeCP2 antibody indicated that a MYCN/MeCP2 interaction occurs at protein level. mRNA expression profiling revealed that the median expression of genes with promoters bound by MYCN was significantly higher than for genes bound by MeCP2, and that genes bound by both proteins had intermediate expression. Pathway analysis was carried out for genes bound by MYCN, MeCP2 or MYCN/MeCP2, revealing higher order functions.
Our results indicate that MYCN and MeCP2 protein interact and co-localize to similar genomic sites at very high frequency, and that the patterns of binding of these proteins can be associated with significant differences in transcriptional activity. Although it is not yet known if this interaction contributes to neuroblastoma disease pathogenesis, it is intriguing that the interaction occurs at the promoter regions of several genes important for the development of neuroblastoma, including ALK, AURKA and BDNF.
PMCID: PMC3120883  PMID: 21731748
5.  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
6.  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
7.  MicroRNA-184 inhibits neuroblastoma cell survival through targeting the serine/threonine kinase AKT2 
Molecular Cancer  2010;9:83.
Neuroblastoma is a paediatric cancer of the sympathetic nervous system. The single most important genetic indicator of poor clinical outcome is amplification of the MYCN transcription factor. One of many down-stream MYCN targets is miR-184, which is either directly or indirectly repressed by this transcription factor, possibly due to its pro-apoptotic effects when ectopically over-expressed in neuroblastoma cells. The purpose of this study was to elucidate the molecular mechanism by which miR-184 conveys pro-apoptotic effects.
We demonstrate that the knock-down of endogenous miR-184 has the opposite effect of ectopic up-regulation, leading to enhanced neuroblastoma cell numbers. As a mechanism of how miR-184 causes apoptosis when over-expressed, and increased cell numbers when inhibited, we demonstrate direct targeting and degradation of AKT2, a major downstream effector of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) pathway, one of the most potent pro-survival pathways in cancer. The pro-apoptotic effects of miR-184 ectopic over-expression in neuroblastoma cell lines is reproduced by siRNA inhibition of AKT2, while a positive effect on cell numbers similar to that obtained by the knock-down of endogenous miR-184 can be achieved by ectopic up-regulation of AKT2. Moreover, co-transfection of miR-184 with an AKT2 expression vector lacking the miR-184 target site in the 3'UTR rescues cells from the pro-apoptotic effects of miR-184.
MYCN contributes to tumorigenesis, in part, by repressing miR-184, leading to increased levels of AKT2, a direct target of miR-184. Thus, two important genes with positive effects on cell growth and survival, MYCN and AKT2, can be linked into a common genetic pathway through the actions of miR-184. As an inhibitor of AKT2, miR-184 could be of potential benefit in miRNA mediated therapeutics of MYCN amplified neuroblastoma and other forms of cancer.
PMCID: PMC2864218  PMID: 20409325
8.  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
9.  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
10.  Comprehensive genetic and epigenetic analysis of sporadic meningioma for macro-mutations on 22q and micro-mutations within the NF2 locus 
BMC Genomics  2007;8:16.
Meningiomas are the most common intracranial neoplasias, representing a clinically and histopathologically heterogeneous group of tumors. The neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) tumor suppressor is the only gene known to be frequently involved in early development of meningiomas. The objective of this study was to identify genetic and/or epigenetic factors contributing to the development of these tumors. A large set of sporadic meningiomas were analyzed for presence of 22q macro-mutations using array-CGH in order to identify tumors carrying gene dosage aberrations not encompassing NF2. The NF2 locus was also comprehensively studied for point mutations within coding and conserved non-coding sequences. Furthermore, CpG methylation within the NF2 promoter region was thoroughly analyzed.
Monosomy 22 was the predominant finding, detected in 47% of meningiomas. Thirteen percent of the tumors contained interstitial/terminal deletions and gains, present singly or in combinations. We defined at least two minimal overlapping regions outside the NF2 locus that are small enough (~550 kb and ~250 kb) to allow analysis of a limited number of candidate genes. Bialleinactivationo the NF2 gne was detected in 36% of meningiomas. Among the monosomy 22 cases, no additional NF2 mutations could be identified in 35% (17 out of 49) of tumors. Furthermore, the majority of tumors (9 out of 12) with interstitial/terminal deletions did not have any detectable NF2 mutations. Methylation within the NF2 promoter region was only identified at a single CpG site in one tumor sample.
We confirmed previous findings of pronounced differences in mutation frequency between different histopathological subtypes. There is a higher frequency of biallelic NF2 inactivation in fibroblastic (52%) compared to meningothelial (18%) tumors. The presence of macro-mutations on 22q also shows marked differences between fibroblastic (86%) and meningothelial (39%) subtypes. Thus, inactivation of NF2, often combined with the presence of macro-mutation on 22q, is likely not as important for the development of the meningothelial subtype, as opposed to the fibroblastic form. Analysis of 40 CpG sites distributed within 750 bp of the promoter region suggests that NF2 promoter methylation does not play a major role in meningioma development.
PMCID: PMC1781436  PMID: 17222329

Results 1-10 (10)