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1.  Novel Agents Targeting the IGF-1R/PI3K Pathway Impair Cell Proliferation and Survival in Subsets of Medulloblastoma and Neuroblastoma 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47109.
The receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK)/phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) pathway is fundamental for cancer cell proliferation and is known to be frequently altered and activated in neoplasia, including embryonal tumors. Based on the high frequency of alterations, targeting components of the PI3K signaling pathway is considered to be a promising therapeutic approach for cancer treatment. Here, we have investigated the potential of targeting the axis of the insulin-like growth factor-1 receptor (IGF-1R) and PI3K signaling in two common cancers of childhood: neuroblastoma, the most common extracranial tumor in children and medulloblastoma, the most frequent malignant childhood brain tumor. By treating neuroblastoma and medulloblastoma cells with R1507, a specific humanized monoclonal antibody against the IGF-1R, we could observe cell line-specific responses and in some cases a strong decrease in cell proliferation. In contrast, targeting the PI3K p110α with the specific inhibitor PIK75 resulted in broad anti-proliferative effects in a panel of neuro- and medulloblastoma cell lines. Additionally, sensitization to commonly used chemotherapeutic agents occurred in neuroblastoma cells upon treatment with R1507 or PIK75. Furthermore, by studying the expression and phosphorylation state of IGF-1R/PI3K downstream signaling targets we found down-regulated signaling pathway activation. In addition, apoptosis occurred in embryonal tumor cells after treatment with PIK75 or R1507. Together, our studies demonstrate the potential of targeting the IGF-1R/PI3K signaling axis in embryonal tumors. Hopefully, this knowledge will contribute to the development of urgently required new targeted therapies for embryonal tumors.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047109
PMCID: PMC3466180  PMID: 23056595
2.  Involvement of the CXCR7/CXCR4/CXCL12 Axis in the Malignant Progression of Human Neuroblastoma 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e43665.
Neuroblastoma (NB) is a typical childhood and heterogeneous neoplasm for which efficient targeted therapies for high-risk tumors are not yet identified. The chemokine CXCL12, and its receptors CXCR4 and CXCR7 have been involved in tumor progression and dissemination. While CXCR4 expression is associated to undifferentiated tumors and poor prognosis, the role of CXCR7, the recently identified second CXCL12 receptor, has not yet been elucidated in NB. In this report, CXCR7 and CXCL12 expressions were evaluated using a tissue micro-array including 156 primary and 56 metastatic NB tissues. CXCL12 was found to be highly associated to NB vascular and stromal structures. In contrast to CXCR4, CXCR7 expression was low in undifferentiated tumors, while its expression was stronger in matured tissues and specifically associated to differentiated neural tumor cells. As determined by RT-PCR, CXCR7 expression was mainly detected in N-and S-type NB cell lines, and was slightly induced upon NB cell differentiation in vitro. The relative roles of the two CXCL12 receptors were further assessed by overexpressing CXCR7 or CXCR4 receptor alone, or in combination, in the IGR-NB8 and the SH-SY5Y NB cell lines. In vitro functional analyses indicated that, in response to their common ligand, both receptors induced activation of ERK1/2 cascade, but not Akt pathway. CXCR7 strongly reduced in vitro growth, in contrast to CXCR4, and impaired CXCR4/CXCL12-mediated chemotaxis. Subcutaneous implantation of CXCR7-expressing NB cells showed that CXCR7 also significantly reduced in vivo growth. Moreover, CXCR7 affected CXCR4-mediated orthotopic growth in a CXCL12-producing environment. In such model, CXCR7, in association with CXCR4, did not induce NB cell metastatic dissemination. In conclusion, the CXCR7 and CXCR4 receptors revealed specific expression patterns and distinct functional roles in NB. Our data suggest that CXCR7 elicits anti-tumorigenic functions, and may act as a regulator of CXCR4/CXCL12-mediated signaling in NB.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043665
PMCID: PMC3423387  PMID: 22916293
3.  Functional Sphere Profiling Reveals the Complexity of Neuroblastoma Tumor-Initiating Cell Model12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2011;13(10):991-1004.
Neuroblastoma (NB) is a neural crest-derived childhood tumor characterized by a remarkable phenotypic diversity, ranging from spontaneous regression to fatal metastatic disease. Although the cancer stem cell (CSC) model provides a trail to characterize the cells responsible for tumor onset, the NB tumor-initiating cell (TIC) has not been identified. In this study, the relevance of the CSC model in NB was investigated by taking advantage of typical functional stem cell characteristics. A predictive association was established between self-renewal, as assessed by serial sphere formation, and clinical aggressiveness in primary tumors. Moreover, cell subsets gradually selected during serial sphere culture harbored increased in vivo tumorigenicity, only highlighted in an orthotopic microenvironment. A microarray time course analysis of serial spheres passages from metastatic cells allowed us to specifically “profile” the NB stem cell-like phenotype and to identify CD133, ABC transporter, and WNT and NOTCH genes as spheres markers. On the basis of combined sphere markers expression, at least two distinct tumorigenic cell subpopulations were identified, also shown to preexist in primary NB. However, sphere markers-mediated cell sorting of parental tumor failed to recapitulate the TIC phenotype in the orthotopic model, highlighting the complexity of the CSC model. Our data support the NB stem-like cells as a dynamic and heterogeneous cell population strongly dependent on microenvironmental signals and add novel candidate genes as potential therapeutic targets in the control of high-risk NB.
PMCID: PMC3201575  PMID: 22028624
4.  Influence of Neuroblastoma Stage on Serum-Based Detection of MYCN Amplification 
Pediatric blood & cancer  2009;53(3):329-331.
Background
MYCN oncogene amplification has been defined as the most important prognostic factor for neuroblastoma, the most common solid extracranial neoplasm in children. High copy numbers are strongly associated with rapid tumor progression and poor outcome, independently of tumor stage or patient age, and this has become an important factor in treatment stratification.
Procedure
By Real Time Quantitative PCR analysis, we evaluated the clinical relevance of circulating MYCN DNA of 267 patients with locoregional or metastatic neuroblastoma in children less than 18 months of age.
Results
For patients in this age group with INSS stage 4 or 4S NB and stage 3 patients, serum-based determination of MYCN DNA sequences had good sensitivity (85%, 83% and 75% respectively) and high specificity (100%) when compared to direct tumor gene determination. In contrast, the approach showed low sensitivity patients with stage 1 and 2 disease.
Conclusion
Our results show that the sensitivity of the serum-based MYCN DNA sequence determination depends on the stage of the disease. However, this simple, reproducible assay may represent a reasonably sensitive and very specific tool to assess tumor MYCN status in cases with stage 3 and metastatic disease for whom a wait and see strategy is often recommended.
doi:10.1002/pbc.22009
PMCID: PMC2857568  PMID: 19301388
Circulating DNA; MYCN amplification; neuroblastoma
5.  Fenretinide-induced caspase-8 activation and apoptosis in an established model of metastatic neuroblastoma 
BMC Cancer  2009;9:97.
Background
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.
Methods
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.
Results
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.
Conclusion
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.
doi:10.1186/1471-2407-9-97
PMCID: PMC2670318  PMID: 19331667
6.  Complex molecular mechanisms cooperate to mediate histone deacetylase inhibitors anti-tumour activity in neuroblastoma cells 
Molecular Cancer  2008;7:55.
Background
Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) are a new class of promising anti-tumour agent inhibiting cell proliferation and survival in tumour cells with very low toxicity toward normal cells. Neuroblastoma (NB) is the second most common solid tumour in children still associated with poor outcome in higher stages and, thus NB strongly requires novel treatment modalities.
Results
We show here that the HDACi Sodium Butyrate (NaB), suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid (SAHA) and Trichostatin A (TSA) strongly reduce NB cells viability. The anti-tumour activity of these HDACi involved the induction of cell cycle arrest in the G2/M phase, followed by the activation of the intrinsic apoptotic pathway, via the activation of the caspases cascade. Moreover, HDACi mediated the activation of the pro-apoptotic proteins Bid and BimEL and the inactivation of the anti-apoptotic proteins XIAP, Bcl-xL, RIP and survivin, that further enhanced the apoptotic signal. Interestingly, the activity of these apoptosis regulators was modulated by several different mechanisms, either by caspases dependent proteolytic cleavage or by degradation via the proteasome pathway. In addition, HDACi strongly impaired the hypoxia-induced secretion of VEGF by NB cells.
Conclusion
HDACi are therefore interesting new anti-tumour agents for targeting highly malignant tumours such as NB, as these agents display a strong toxicity toward aggressive NB cells and they may possibly reduce angiogenesis by decreasing VEGF production by NB cells.
doi:10.1186/1476-4598-7-55
PMCID: PMC2442609  PMID: 18549473
7.  The Chemokine Receptor CXCR4 Strongly Promotes Neuroblastoma Primary Tumour and Metastatic Growth, but not Invasion 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(10):e1016.
Neuroblastoma (NB) is a heterogeneous, and particularly malignant childhood neoplasm in its higher stages, with a propensity to form metastasis in selected organs, in particular liver and bone marrow, and for which there is still no efficient treatment available beyond surgery. Recent evidence indicates that the CXCR4/CXCL12 chemokine/receptor axis may be involved in promoting NB invasion and metastasis. In this study, we explored the potential role of CXCR4 in the malignant behaviour of NB, using a combination of in vitro functional analyses and in vivo growth and metastasis assessment in an orthotopic NB mouse model. We show here that CXCR4 overexpression in non-metastatic CXCR4-negative NB cells IGR-NB8 and in moderately metastatic, CXCR4 expressing NB cells IGR-N91, strongly increased tumour growth of primary tumours and liver metastases, without altering the frequency or the pattern of metastasis. Moreover shRNA-mediated knock-down experiments confirmed our observations by showing that silencing CXCR4 in NB cells impairs in vitro and almost abrogates in vivo growth. High levels of CXCL12 were detected in the mouse adrenal gland (the primary tumour site), and in the liver suggesting a paracrine effect of host-derived CXCL12 on NB growth. In conclusion, this study reveals a yet unreported NB-specific predominant growth and survival-promoting role of CXCR4, which warrants a critical reconsideration of the role of CXCR4 in the malignant behaviour of NB and other cancers.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001016
PMCID: PMC1995764  PMID: 17925864
8.  Histone deacetylase inhibitors strongly sensitise neuroblastoma cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis by a caspases-dependent increase of the pro- to anti-apoptotic proteins ratio 
BMC Cancer  2006;6:214.
Background
Neuroblastoma (NB) is the second most common solid childhood tumour, an aggressive disease for which new therapeutic strategies are strongly needed. Tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) selectively induces apoptosis in most tumour cells, but not in normal tissues and therefore represents a valuable candidate in apoptosis-inducing therapies. Caspase-8 is silenced in a subset of highly malignant NB cells, which results in full TRAIL resistance. In addition, despite constitutive caspase-8 expression, or its possible restoration by different strategies, NB cells remain weakly sensitive to TRAIL indicating a need to develop strategies to sensitise NB cells to TRAIL. Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACIs) are a new class of anti-cancer agent inducing apoptosis or cell cycle arrest in tumour cells with very low toxicity toward normal cells. Although HDACIs were recently shown to increase death induced by TRAIL in weakly TRAIL-sensitive tumour cells, the precise involved sensitisation mechanisms have not been fully identified.
Methods
NB cell lines were treated with various doses of HDACIs and TRAIL, then cytotoxicity was analysed by MTS/PMS proliferation assays, apoptosis was measured by the Propidium staining method, caspases activity by colorimetric protease assays, and (in)activation of apoptotic proteins by immunoblotting.
Results
Sub-toxic doses of HDACIs strongly sensitised caspase-8 positive NB cell lines to TRAIL induced apoptosis in a caspases dependent manner. Combined treatments increased the activation of caspases and Bid, and the inactivation of the anti-apoptotic proteins XIAP, Bcl-x, RIP, and survivin, thereby increasing the pro- to anti-apoptotic protein ratio. It also enhanced the activation of the mitochondrial pathway. Interestingly, the kinetics of caspases activation and inactivation of anti-apoptotic proteins is accelerated by combined treatment with TRAIL and HDACIs compared to TRAIL alone. In contrast, cell surface expression of TRAIL-receptors or TRAIL is not affected by sub-toxic doses of HDACIs.
Conclusion
HDACIs were shown to activate the mitochondrial pathway and to sensitise NB cells to TRAIL by enhancing the amplitude of the apoptotic cascade and by restoring an apoptosis-prone ratio of pro- to anti-apoptotic proteins. Combining HDACIs and TRAIL could therefore represent a weakly toxic and promising strategy to target TRAIL-resistant tumours such as neuroblastomas.
doi:10.1186/1471-2407-6-214
PMCID: PMC1569857  PMID: 16930472

Results 1-8 (8)