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1.  Expressional alterations in functional ultra-conserved non-coding rnas in response to all-trans retinoic acid - induced differentiation in neuroblastoma cells 
BMC Cancer  2013;13:184.
Ultra-conserved regions (UCRs) are segments of the genome (≥ 200 bp) that exhibit 100% DNA sequence conservation between human, mouse and rat. Transcribed UCRs (T-UCRs) have been shown to be differentially expressed in cancers versus normal tissue, indicating a possible role in carcinogenesis. All-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) causes some neuroblastoma (NB) cell lines to undergo differentiation and leads to a significant decrease in the oncogenic transcription factor MYCN. Here, we examine the impact of ATRA treatment on T-UCR expression and investigate the biological significance of these changes.
We designed a custom tiling microarray to profile the expression of 481 T-UCRs in sense and anti-sense orientation (962 potential transcripts) in untreated and ATRA-treated neuroblastoma cell lines (SH-SY5Y, SK-N-BE, LAN-5). Following identification of significantly differentially expressed T-UCRs, we carried out siRNA knockdown and gene expression microarray analysis to investigate putative functional roles for selected T-UCRs.
Following ATRA-induced differentiation, 32 T-UCRs were differentially expressed (16 up-regulated, 16 down-regulated) across all three cell lines. Further insight into the possible role of T-UC.300A, an independent transcript whose expression is down-regulated following ATRA was achieved by siRNA knockdown, resulting in the decreased viability and invasiveness of ATRA-responsive cell lines. Gene expression microarray analysis following knockdown of T-UC.300A revealed a number of genes whose expression was altered by changing T-UC.300A levels and that might play a role in the increased proliferation and invasion of NB cells prior to ATRA-treatment.
Our results indicate that significant numbers of T-UCRs have altered expression levels in response to ATRA. While the precise roles that T-UCRs might play in cancer or in normal development are largely unknown and an important area for future study, our findings strongly indicate that the function of non-coding RNA T-UC.300A is connected with proliferation, invasion and the inhibition of differentiation of neuroblastoma cell lines prior to ATRA treatment.
PMCID: PMC3626850  PMID: 23565812
ATRA; neuroblastoma; Transcribed ultra-conserved regions; Differentiation
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-542-5p as a Novel Tumor Suppressor in Neuroblastoma 
Cancer letters  2011;303(1):56-64.
Several studies have implicated the dysregulation of microRNAs in neuroblastoma pathogenesis, an often fatal paediatric cancer arising from precursor cells of the sympathetic nervous system. Our group and others have demonstrated that lower expression of miR-542-5p is highly associated with poor patient survival, indicating a potential tumor suppressive function. Here, we demonstrate that ectopic over-expression of this miRNA decreases the invasive potential of neuroblastoma cell lines in vitro, along with primary tumor growth and metastases in an orthotopic mouse xenograft model, providing the first functional evidence for the involvement of miR-542-5p as a tumor suppressor in any type of cancer.
PMCID: PMC3057396  PMID: 21310526
MicroRNAs; neuroblastoma; miR-542-5p; orthotopic mouse model
4.  MicroRNAs 10a and 10b Are Potent Inducers of Neuroblastoma Cell Differentiation Through Targeting of Nuclear Receptor Co-repressor 2 
Cell death and differentiation  2011;18(7):1089-1098.
MicroRNAs function as negative regulators of post-transcriptional gene expression, playing major roles in cellular differentiation. Several neuroblastoma cell lines can be induced to undergo differentiation by all-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) and are used for modelling signalling pathways involved in this process. To identify miRNAs contributing to differentiation, we profiled 364 loci following ATRA treatment of neuroblastoma cell lines and found miR-10a and miR-10b to be highly over-expressed in SK-N-BE, LAN5, and SHSY-5Y. Ectopic over-expression of these miRNAs led to a major reprogramming of the transcriptome and a differentiated phenotype that was similar to that induced by ATRA in each of these cell lines. One of the predicted down-regulated miR-10a/b targets was nuclear receptor co-repressor 2 (NCOR2), a co-repressor of gene transcription which is known to suppress neurite outgrowth. NCOR2 was experimentally validated as a direct target of miR-10a/b, and siRNA mediated inhibition of this mRNA alone resulted in neural cell differentiation. Moreover, induction of differentiation could be blocked by ectopic up-regulation of NCOR2 using an expression construct lacking the miR-10a/b 3’ UTR target site. We conclude that miR-10a/b play major roles in the process of neural cell differentiation through direct targeting of NCOR2, which in turn induces a cascade of primary and secondary transcriptional alterations, including the down-regulation of MYCN.
PMCID: PMC3114164  PMID: 21212796
ATRA; MYCN; neuroblastoma; miR-10a; miR-10b; NCOR2; differentiation
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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 1-7 (7)