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2.  MiRNA-335 suppresses neuroblastoma cell invasiveness by direct targeting of multiple genes from the non-canonical TGF-β signalling pathway 
Carcinogenesis  2012;33(5):976-985.
Transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) signaling regulates many diverse cellular activities through both canonical (SMAD-dependent) and non-canonical branches, which includes the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), Rho-like guanosine triphosphatase and phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase/AKT pathways. Here, we demonstrate that miR-335 directly targets and downregulates genes in the TGF-β non-canonical pathways, including the Rho-associated coiled-coil containing protein (ROCK1) and MAPK1, resulting in reduced phosphorylation of downstream pathway members. Specifically, inhibition of ROCK1 and MAPK1 reduces phosphorylation levels of the motor protein myosin light chain (MLC) leading to a significant inhibition of the invasive and migratory potential of neuroblastoma cells. Additionally, miR-335 targets the leucine-rich alpha-2-glycoprotein 1 (LRG1) messenger RNA, which similarly results in a significant reduction in the phosphorylation status of MLC and a decrease in neuroblastoma cell migration and invasion. Thus, we link LRG1 to the migratory machinery of the cell, altering its activity presumably by exerting its effect within the non-canonical TGF-β pathway. Moreover, we demonstrate that the MYCN transcription factor, whose coding sequence is highly amplified in a particularly clinically aggressive neuroblastoma tumor subtype, directly binds to a region immediately upstream of the miR-335 transcriptional start site, resulting in transcriptional repression. We conclude that MYCN contributes to neuroblastoma cell migration and invasion, by directly downregulating miR-335, resulting in the upregulation of the TGF-β signaling pathway members ROCK1, MAPK1 and putative member LRG1, which positively promote this process. Our results provide novel insight into the direct regulation of TGF-β non-canonical signaling by miR-335, which in turn is downregulated by MYCN.
PMCID: PMC3334516  PMID: 22382496
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.  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)