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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.  Silencing microRNA-134 produces neuroprotective and prolonged seizure-suppressive effects 
Nature medicine  2012;18(7):1087-1094.
Temporal lobe epilepsy is a common, chronic neurologic disorder characterized by recurrent spontaneous seizures. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small, non-coding RNAs that regulate post-transcriptional expression of protein-coding mRNAs, which may have important roles in the pathogenesis of neurologic disorders. In models of prolonged, injurious seizures (status epilepticus) and in experimental and human epilepsy, we found up-regulation of miR-134, a brain-specific, activity-regulated miRNA implicated in the control of dendritic spine morphology. Silencing of miR-134 expression in vivo using antagomirs reduced hippocampal CA3 pyramidal neuron dendrite spine density by 21%, and rendered mice refractory to seizures and hippocampal injury caused by status epilepticus. Depletion of miR-134 after status epilepticus reduced the later occurrence of spontaneous seizures by over 90% and mitigated attendant pathologic features of temporal lobe epilepsy. Thus, silencing miR-134 exerts prolonged seizure suppressant and neuroprotective actions; whether these represent anticonvulsant or truly antiepileptogenic effects requires additional experimentation.
PMCID: PMC3438344  PMID: 22683779
Dicer; Epileptogenesis; Hippocampal sclerosis; Synaptogenesis; Temporal lobe epilepsy
3.  Inhibition of Neuroblastoma Tumor Growth by Targeted Delivery of MicroRNA-34a Using Anti-Disialoganglioside GD2 Coated Nanoparticles 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e38129.
Neuroblastoma is one of the most challenging malignancies of childhood, being associated with the highest death rate in paediatric oncology, underlining the need for novel therapeutic approaches. Typically, patients with high risk disease undergo an initial remission in response to treatment, followed by disease recurrence that has become refractory to further treatment. Here, we demonstrate the first silica nanoparticle-based targeted delivery of a tumor suppressive, pro-apoptotic microRNA, miR-34a, to neuroblastoma tumors in a murine orthotopic xenograft model. These tumors express high levels of the cell surface antigen disialoganglioside GD2 (GD2), providing a target for tumor-specific delivery.
Principal Findings
Nanoparticles encapsulating miR-34a and conjugated to a GD2 antibody facilitated tumor-specific delivery following systemic administration into tumor bearing mice, resulted in significantly decreased tumor growth, increased apoptosis and a reduction in vascularisation. We further demonstrate a novel, multi-step molecular mechanism by which miR-34a leads to increased levels of the tissue inhibitor metallopeptidase 2 precursor (TIMP2) protein, accounting for the highly reduced vascularisation noted in miR-34a-treated tumors.
These novel findings highlight the potential of anti-GD2-nanoparticle-mediated targeted delivery of miR-34a for both the treatment of GD2-expressing tumors, and as a basic discovery tool for elucidating biological effects of novel miRNAs on tumor growth.
PMCID: PMC3360657  PMID: 22662276
4.  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
5.  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 1-5 (5)