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1.  Inhibition of CDK4/6 as a novel therapeutic option for neuroblastoma 
Neuroblastoma is a neural crest-derived tumor and is the most common cancer in children less than 1 year of age. We hypothesized that aberrations in genes that control the cell cycle could play an important role in the pathogenesis of neuroblastoma and could provide a tractable therapeutic target.
In this study, we screened 131 genes involved in cell cycle regulation at different levels by analyzing the effect of siRNA-mediated gene silencing on the proliferation of neuroblastoma cells.
Marked reductions in neuroblastoma cellular proliferation were recorded after knockdown of CCND1 or PLK1. We next showed that pharmacological inhibition of cyclin D1 dependent kinases 4/6 (CDK4/6) with PD 0332991 (palbociclib) reduced the growth of neuroblastoma cell lines, induced G1 cell cycle arrest, and inhibited the cyclin D1-Rb pathway.
Selective inhibition of CDK4/6 using palbociclib may provide a new therapeutic option for treating neuroblastoma.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12935-015-0224-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4518532
Cell cycle; Neuroblastoma; Palbociclib; Cyclin D1; Targeted therapy
2.  RNA G-quadruplexes cause eIF4A-dependent oncogene translation in cancer 
Nature  2014;513(7516):65-70.
The translational control of oncoprotein expression is implicated in many cancers. Here we report an eIF4A/DDX2 RNA helicase-dependent mechanism of translational control that contributes to oncogenesis and underlies the anticancer effects of Silvestrol and related compounds. For example, eIF4A promotes T-ALL development in vivo and is required for leukaemia maintenance. Accordingly, inhibition of eIF4A with Silvestrol has powerful therapeutic effects in vitro and in vivo. We use transcriptome-scale ribosome footprinting to identify the hallmarks of eIF4A-dependent transcripts. These include 5′UTR sequences such as the 12-mer guanine quartet (CGG)4 motif that can form RNA G-quadruplex structures. Notably, among the most eIF4A-dependent and Silvestrol-sensitive transcripts are a number of oncogenes, super-enhancer associated transcription factors, and epigenetic regulators. Hence, the 5′UTRs of selected cancer genes harbour a targetable requirement for the eIF4A RNA helicase.
PMCID: PMC4492470  PMID: 25079319
3.  Mate pair sequencing for the detection of chromosomal aberrations in patients with intellectual disability and congenital malformations 
Recently, microarrays have replaced karyotyping as a first tier test in patients with idiopathic intellectual disability and/or multiple congenital abnormalities (ID/MCA) in many laboratories. Although in about 14–18% of such patients, DNA copy-number variants (CNVs) with clinical significance can be detected, microarrays have the disadvantage of missing balanced rearrangements, as well as providing no information about the genomic architecture of structural variants (SVs) like duplications and complex rearrangements. Such information could possibly lead to a better interpretation of the clinical significance of the SV. In this study, the clinical use of mate pair next-generation sequencing was evaluated for the detection and further characterization of structural variants within the genomes of 50 ID/MCA patients. Thirty of these patients carried a chromosomal aberration that was previously detected by array CGH or karyotyping and suspected to be pathogenic. In the remaining 20 patients no causal SVs were found and only benign aberrations were detected by conventional techniques. Combined cluster and coverage analysis of the mate pair data allowed precise breakpoint detection and further refinement of previously identified balanced and (complex) unbalanced aberrations, pinpointing the causal gene for some patients. We conclude that mate pair sequencing is a powerful technology that can provide rapid and unequivocal characterization of unbalanced and balanced SVs in patient genomes and can be essential for the clinical interpretation of some SVs.
PMCID: PMC3992577  PMID: 24105367
intellectual disability; mate pair sequencing; array CGH; structural variation
4.  The H3K27me3 demethylase UTX in normal development and disease 
Epigenetics  2014;9(5):658-668.
In 2007, the Ubiquitously Transcribed Tetratricopeptide Repeat on chromosome X (UTX) was identified as a histone demethylase that specifically targets di- and tri-methyl groups on lysine 27 of histone H3 (H3K27me2/3). Since then, UTX has been proven essential during normal development, as it is critically required for correct reprogramming, embryonic development and tissue-specific differentiation. UTX is a member of the MLL2 H3K4 methyltransferase complex and its catalytic activity has been linked to regulation of HOX and RB transcriptional networks. In addition, an H3K27me2/3 demethylase independent function for UTX was uncovered in promoting general chromatin remodeling in concert with the BRG1-containing SWI/SNF remodeling complex. Constitutional inactivation of UTX causes a specific hereditary disorder called the Kabuki syndrome, whereas somatic loss of UTX has been reported in a variety of human cancers. Here, we compile the breakthrough discoveries made from the first disclosure of UTX as a histone demethylase till the identification of disease-related UTX mutations and specific UTX inhibitors.
PMCID: PMC4063824  PMID: 24561908
UTX; H3K27; MLL2; HOX; RB; SWI/SNF; reprogramming; embryogenesis; Kabuki; cancer
5.  Genome wide expression profiling of p53 regulated miRNAs in neuroblastoma 
Scientific Reports  2015;5:9027.
Restoration of the antitumor activity of p53 could offer a promising approach for the treatment of neuroblastoma. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are important mediators of p53 activity, but their role in the p53 response has not yet been comprehensively addressed in neuroblastoma. Therefore, we set out to characterize alterations in miRNA expression that are induced by p53 activation in neuroblastoma cells. Genome-wide miRNA expression analysis showed that miR-34a-5p, miR-182-5p, miR-203a, miR-222-3p, and miR-432-5p are upregulated following nutlin-3 treatment in a p53 dependent manner. The function of miR-182-5p, miR-203a, miR-222-3p, and miR-432-5p was analyzed by ectopic overexpression of miRNA mimics. We observed that these p53-regulated miRNAs inhibit the proliferation of neuroblastoma cells to varying degrees, with the most profound growth inhibition recorded for miR-182-5p. Overexpression of miR-182-5p promoted apoptosis in some neuroblastoma cell lines and induced neuronal differentiation of NGP cells. Using Chromatin Immunoprecipitation-qPCR (ChIP-qPCR), we did not observe direct binding of p53 to MIR182, MIR203, MIR222, and MIR432 in neuroblastoma cells. Taken together, our findings yield new insights in the network of p53-regulated miRNAs in neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC4356961  PMID: 25762502
6.  ZEB2 drives immature T-cell lymphoblastic leukaemia development via enhanced tumour-initiating potential and IL-7 receptor signalling 
Nature Communications  2015;6:5794.
Early T-cell precursor leukaemia (ETP-ALL) is a high-risk subtype of human leukaemia that is poorly understood at the molecular level. Here we report translocations targeting the zinc finger E-box-binding transcription factor ZEB2 as a recurrent genetic lesion in immature/ETP-ALL. Using a conditional gain-of-function mouse model, we demonstrate that sustained Zeb2 expression initiates T-cell leukaemia. Moreover, Zeb2-driven mouse leukaemia exhibit some features of the human immature/ETP-ALL gene expression signature, as well as an enhanced leukaemia-initiation potential and activated Janus kinase (JAK)/signal transducers and activators of transcription (STAT) signalling through transcriptional activation of IL7R. This study reveals ZEB2 as an oncogene in the biology of immature/ETP-ALL and paves the way towards pre-clinical studies of novel compounds for the treatment of this aggressive subtype of human T-ALL using our Zeb2-driven mouse model.
Driver mutations in early T-cell precursor leukaemia (ETP-ALL) are poorly characterized. Here the authors show that Zeb2 overexpression is often found in ETP-ALL, can recapitulate the disease in transgenic mice and confers survival advantage by upregulating IL-7 signalling.
PMCID: PMC4354161  PMID: 25565005
7.  MYCN-targeting miRNAs are predominantly downregulated during MYCN-driven neuroblastoma tumor formation 
Oncotarget  2014;6(7):5204-5216.
MYCN is a transcription factor that plays key roles in both normal development and cancer. In neuroblastoma, MYCN acts as a major oncogenic driver through pleiotropic effects regulated by multiple protein encoding genes as well as microRNAs (miRNAs). MYCN activity is tightly controlled at the level of transcription and protein stability through various mechanisms. Like most genes, MYCN is further controlled by miRNAs, but the full complement of all miRNAs implicated in this process has not been determined through an unbiased approach. To elucidate the role of miRNAs in regulation of MYCN, we thus explored the MYCN-miRNA interactome to establish miRNAs controlling MYCN expression levels. We combined results from an unbiased and genome-wide high-throughput miRNA target reporter screen with miRNA and mRNA expression data from patients and a murine neuroblastoma progression model. We identified 29 miRNAs targeting MYCN, of which 12 miRNAs are inversely correlated with MYCN expression or activity in neuroblastoma tumor tissue. The majority of MYCN-targeting miRNAs in neuroblastoma showed a decrease in expression during murine MYCN-driven neuroblastoma tumor development. Therefore, we provide evidence that MYCN-targeting miRNAs are preferentially downregulated in MYCN-driven neuroblastoma, suggesting that MYCN negatively controls the expression of these miRNAs, to safeguard its expression.
PMCID: PMC4467143  PMID: 25294817
MYCN; microRNA; neuroblastoma; feedback regulation; cross-species
8.  ViVar: A Comprehensive Platform for the Analysis and Visualization of Structural Genomic Variation 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e113800.
Structural genomic variations play an important role in human disease and phenotypic diversity. With the rise of high-throughput sequencing tools, mate-pair/paired-end/single-read sequencing has become an important technique for the detection and exploration of structural variation. Several analysis tools exist to handle different parts and aspects of such sequencing based structural variation analyses pipelines. A comprehensive analysis platform to handle all steps, from processing the sequencing data, to the discovery and visualization of structural variants, is missing. The ViVar platform is built to handle the discovery of structural variants, from Depth Of Coverage analysis, aberrant read pair clustering to split read analysis. ViVar provides you with powerful visualization options, enables easy reporting of results and better usability and data management. The platform facilitates the processing, analysis and visualization, of structural variation based on massive parallel sequencing data, enabling the rapid identification of disease loci or genes. ViVar allows you to scale your analysis with your work load over multiple (cloud) servers, has user access control to keep your data safe and is easy expandable as analysis techniques advance. URL:
PMCID: PMC4264741  PMID: 25503062
9.  CASP8 SNP D302H (rs1045485) Is Associated with Worse Survival in MYCN-Amplified Neuroblastoma Patients 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e114696.
Neuroblastoma is a pediatric cancer that exhibits a wide clinical spectrum ranging from spontaneous regression in low-risk patients to fatal disease in high-risk patients. The identification of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) may help explain the heterogeneity of neuroblastoma and assist in identifying patients at higher risk for poor survival. SNPs in the TP53 pathway are of special importance, as several studies have reported associations between TP53 pathway SNPs and cancer. Of note, less than 2% of neuroblastoma tumors have a TP53 mutation at diagnosis.
Patients and Methods
We selected 21 of the most frequently studied SNPs in the TP53 pathway and evaluated their association with outcome in 500 neuroblastoma patients using TaqMan allelic discrimination assays.
Results and Conclusion
We investigated the impact of 21 SNPs on overall survival, event-free survival, age at diagnosis, MYCN status, and stage of the disease in 500 neuroblastoma patients. A missense SNP in exon 10 of the CASP8 gene SNP D302H was associated with worse overall and event-free survival in patients with MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma tumors.
PMCID: PMC4263607  PMID: 25502557
10.  A nanobody modulates the p53 transcriptional program without perturbing its functional architecture 
Nucleic Acids Research  2014;42(20):12928-12938.
The p53 transcription factor plays an important role in genome integrity. To perform this task, p53 regulates the transcription of genes promoting various cellular outcomes including cell cycle arrest, apoptosis or senescence. The precise regulation of this activity remains elusive as numerous mechanisms, e.g. posttranslational modifications of p53 and (non-)covalent p53 binding partners, influence the p53 transcriptional program. We developed a novel, non-invasive tool to manipulate endogenous p53. Nanobodies (Nb), raised against the DNA-binding domain of p53, allow us to distinctively target both wild type and mutant p53 with great specificity. Nb3 preferentially binds ‘structural’ mutant p53, i.e. R175H and R282W, while a second but distinct nanobody, Nb139, binds both mutant and wild type p53. The co-crystal structure of the p53 DNA-binding domain in complex with Nb139 (1.9 Å resolution) reveals that Nb139 binds opposite the DNA-binding surface. Furthermore, we demonstrate that Nb139 does not disturb the functional architecture of the p53 DNA-binding domain using conformation-specific p53 antibody immunoprecipitations, glutaraldehyde crosslinking assays and chromatin immunoprecipitation. Functionally, the binding of Nb139 to p53 allows us to perturb the transactivation of p53 target genes. We propose that reduced recruitment of transcriptional co-activators or modulation of selected post-transcriptional modifications account for these observations.
PMCID: PMC4227789  PMID: 25324313
11.  Expressed Repeat Elements Improve RT-qPCR Normalization across a Wide Range of Zebrafish Gene Expression Studies 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e109091.
The selection and validation of stably expressed reference genes is a critical issue for proper RT-qPCR data normalization. In zebrafish expression studies, many commonly used reference genes are not generally applicable given their variability in expression levels under a variety of experimental conditions. Inappropriate use of these reference genes may lead to false interpretation of expression data and unreliable conclusions. In this study, we evaluated a novel normalization method in zebrafish using expressed repetitive elements (ERE) as reference targets, instead of specific protein coding mRNA targets. We assessed and compared the expression stability of a number of EREs to that of commonly used zebrafish reference genes in a diverse set of experimental conditions including a developmental time series, a set of different organs from adult fish and different treatments of zebrafish embryos including morpholino injections and administration of chemicals. Using geNorm and rank aggregation analysis we demonstrated that EREs have a higher overall expression stability compared to the commonly used reference genes. Moreover, we propose a limited set of ERE reference targets (hatn10, dna15ta1 and loopern4), that show stable expression throughout the wide range of experiments in this study, as strong candidates for inclusion as reference targets for qPCR normalization in future zebrafish expression studies. Our applied strategy to find and evaluate candidate expressed repeat elements for RT-qPCR data normalization has high potential to be used also for other species.
PMCID: PMC4195698  PMID: 25310091
12.  Genome dynamics of the human embryonic kidney 293 lineage in response to cell biology manipulations 
Nature Communications  2014;5:4767.
The HEK293 human cell lineage is widely used in cell biology and biotechnology. Here we use whole-genome resequencing of six 293 cell lines to study the dynamics of this aneuploid genome in response to the manipulations used to generate common 293 cell derivatives, such as transformation and stable clone generation (293T); suspension growth adaptation (293S); and cytotoxic lectin selection (293SG). Remarkably, we observe that copy number alteration detection could identify the genomic region that enabled cell survival under selective conditions (i.c. ricin selection). Furthermore, we present methods to detect human/vector genome breakpoints and a user-friendly visualization tool for the 293 genome data. We also establish that the genome structure composition is in steady state for most of these cell lines when standard cell culturing conditions are used. This resource enables novel and more informed studies with 293 cells, and we will distribute the sequenced cell lines to this effect.
The human embryonic kidney 293 (HEK293) cell lineage is widely used in cell biology and biotechnology. Here, the authors apply whole genome resequencing methods to characterise genomic variation in six HEK293 cell lines and suggest that this variation could affect experiments using these cell lines.
PMCID: PMC4166678  PMID: 25182477
13.  A cooperative microRNA-tumor suppressor gene network in acute T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) 
Nature genetics  2011;43(7):673-678.
The importance of individual microRNAs (miRNAs) has been established in specific cancers. However, a comprehensive analysis of the contribution of miRNAs to the pathogenesis of any specific cancer is lacking. Here we show that in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), a small set of miRNAs is responsible for the cooperative suppression of several tumor suppressor genes. Cross-comparison of miRNA expression profiles in human T-ALL with the results of an unbiased miRNA library screen allowed us to identify five miRNAs (miR-19b, miR-20a, miR-26a, miR-92 and miR-223) that are capable of promoting T-ALL development in a mouse model and which account for the majority of miRNA expression in human T-ALL. Moreover, these miRNAs produce overlapping and cooperative effects on tumor suppressor genes implicated in the pathogenesis of T-ALL, including IKAROS (also known as IKZF1), PTEN, BIM, PHF6, NF1 and FBXW7. Thus, a comprehensive and unbiased analysis of miRNA action in T-ALL reveals a striking pattern of miRNA-tumor suppressor gene interactions in this cancer.
PMCID: PMC4121855  PMID: 21642990
14.  miRNA Expression Profiling Enables Risk Stratification in Archived and Fresh Neuroblastoma Tumor Samples 
More accurate assessment of prognosis is important to further improve the choice of risk-related therapy in neuroblastoma (NB) patients. In this study, we aimed to establish and validate a prognostic miRNA signature for children with NB and tested it in both fresh frozen and archived formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) samples.
Experimental Design
Four hundred-thirty human mature miRNAs were profiled in two patient subgroups with maximally divergent clinical courses. Univariate logistic regression analysis was used to select miRNAs correlating with NB patient survival. A 25-miRNA gene signature was built using 51 training samples, tested on 179 test samples, and validated on an independent set of 304 fresh frozen tumor samples and 75 archived FFPE samples.
The 25-miRNA signature significantly discriminates the test patients with respect to progression-free and overall survival (P < 0.0001), both in the overall population and in the cohort of high-risk patients. Multivariate analysis indicates that the miRNA signature is an independent predictor of patient survival after controlling for current risk factors. The results were confirmed in an external validation set. In contrast to a previously published mRNA classifier, the 25-miRNA signature was found to be predictive for patient survival in a set of 75 FFPE neuroblastoma samples.
In this study, we present the largest NB miRNA expression study so far, including more than 500 NB patients. We established and validated a robust miRNA classifier, able to identify a cohort of high-risk NB patients at greater risk for adverse outcome using both fresh frozen and archived material.
PMCID: PMC4008338  PMID: 22031095
15.  Activated Alk triggers prolonged neurogenesis and Ret upregulation providing a therapeutic target in ALK-mutated neuroblastoma 
Oncotarget  2014;5(9):2688-2702.
Activating mutations of the ALK (Anaplastic lymphoma Kinase) gene have been identified in sporadic and familial cases of neuroblastoma, a cancer of early childhood arising from the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). To decipher ALK function in neuroblastoma predisposition and oncogenesis, we have characterized knock-in (KI) mice bearing the two most frequent mutations observed in neuroblastoma patients. A dramatic enlargement of sympathetic ganglia is observed in AlkF1178L mice from embryonic to adult stages associated with an increased proliferation of sympathetic neuroblasts from E14.5 to birth. In a MYCN transgenic context, the F1178L mutation displays a higher oncogenic potential than the R1279Q mutation as evident from a shorter latency of tumor onset. We show that tumors expressing the R1279Q mutation are sensitive to ALK inhibition upon crizotinib treatment. Furthermore, our data provide evidence that activated ALK triggers RET upregulation in mouse sympathetic ganglia at birth as well as in murine and human neuroblastoma. Using vandetanib, we show that RET inhibition strongly impairs tumor growth in vivo in both MYCN/KI AlkR1279Q and MYCN/KI AlkF1178L mice. Altogether, our findings demonstrate the critical role of activated ALK in SNS development and pathogenesis and identify RET as a therapeutic target in ALK mutated neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC4058037  PMID: 24811913
Neuroblastoma; ALK; neurogenesis; therapeutic target; RET
17.  PHF6 mutations in adult acute myeloid leukemia 
Leukemia  2010;25(1):10.1038/leu.2010.247.
Loss of function mutations and deletions encompassing the PHF6 gene are present in about 20% of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemias. Here we report the identification of recurrent mutations in PHF6 in 10/353 adult acute myeloid leukemias (AML). Genetic lesions in PHF6 found in AML are frameshift and nonsense mutations distributed through the gene or point mutations involving the second PHD-like domain of the protein. As in the case of T-ALL, where PHF6 alterations are found almost exclusively in males, mutations in PHF6 were 7 times more prevalent in males than in females with AML. Overall these results identify PHF6 as a tumor suppressor mutated in AML and extend the role of this X-linked tumor suppressor gene in the pathogenesis of hematologic tumors.
PMCID: PMC3878659  PMID: 21030981
PHF6; mutations; AML
18.  Comprehensive Analysis of Transcriptome Variation Uncovers Known and Novel Driver Events in T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1003997.
RNA-seq is a promising technology to re-sequence protein coding genes for the identification of single nucleotide variants (SNV), while simultaneously obtaining information on structural variations and gene expression perturbations. We asked whether RNA-seq is suitable for the detection of driver mutations in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). These leukemias are caused by a combination of gene fusions, over-expression of transcription factors and cooperative point mutations in oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. We analyzed 31 T-ALL patient samples and 18 T-ALL cell lines by high-coverage paired-end RNA-seq. First, we optimized the detection of SNVs in RNA-seq data by comparing the results with exome re-sequencing data. We identified known driver genes with recurrent protein altering variations, as well as several new candidates including H3F3A, PTK2B, and STAT5B. Next, we determined accurate gene expression levels from the RNA-seq data through normalizations and batch effect removal, and used these to classify patients into T-ALL subtypes. Finally, we detected gene fusions, of which several can explain the over-expression of key driver genes such as TLX1, PLAG1, LMO1, or NKX2-1; and others result in novel fusion transcripts encoding activated kinases (SSBP2-FER and TPM3-JAK2) or involving MLLT10. In conclusion, we present novel analysis pipelines for variant calling, variant filtering, and expression normalization on RNA-seq data, and successfully applied these for the detection of translocations, point mutations, INDELs, exon-skipping events, and expression perturbations in T-ALL.
Author Summary
The quest for somatic mutations underlying oncogenic processes is a central theme in today's cancer research. High-throughput genomics approaches including amplicon re-sequencing, exome re-sequencing, full genome re-sequencing, and SNP arrays have contributed to cataloguing driver genes across cancer types. Thus far transcriptome sequencing by RNA-seq has been mainly used for the detection of fusion genes, while few studies have assessed its value for the combined detection of SNPs, INDELs, fusions, gene expression changes, and alternative transcript events. Here we apply RNA-seq to 49 T-ALL samples and perform a critical assessment of the bioinformatics pipelines and filters to identify each type of aberration. By comparing to exome re-sequencing, and by exploiting the catalogues of known cancer drivers, we identified many known and several novel driver genes in T-ALL. We also determined an optimal normalization strategy to obtain accurate gene expression levels and used these to identify over-expressed transcription factors that characterize different T-ALL subtypes. Finally, by PCR, cloning, and in vitro cellular assays we uncover new fusion genes that have consequences at the level of gene expression, oncogenic chimaeras, and tumor suppressor inactivation. In conclusion, we present the first RNA-seq data set across T-ALL patients and identify new driver events.
PMCID: PMC3868543  PMID: 24367274
19.  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
20.  A p53 Drug Response Signature Identifies Prognostic Genes in High-Risk Neuroblastoma 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e79843.
Chemotherapy induces apoptosis and tumor regression primarily through activation of p53-mediated transcription. Neuroblastoma is a p53 wild type malignancy at diagnosis and repression of p53 signaling plays an important role in its pathogenesis. Recently developed small molecule inhibitors of the MDM2-p53 interaction are able to overcome this repression and potently activate p53 dependent apoptosis in malignancies with intact p53 downstream signaling. We used the small molecule MDM2 inhibitor, Nutlin-3a, to determine the p53 drug response signature in neuroblastoma cells. In addition to p53 mediated apoptotic signatures, GSEA and pathway analysis identified a set of p53-repressed genes that were reciprocally over-expressed in neuroblastoma patients with the worst overall outcome in multiple clinical cohorts. Multifactorial regression analysis identified a subset of four genes (CHAF1A, RRM2, MCM3, and MCM6) whose expression together strongly predicted overall and event-free survival (p<0.0001). The expression of these four genes was then validated by quantitative PCR in a large independent clinical cohort. Our findings further support the concept that oncogene-driven transcriptional networks opposing p53 activation are essential for the aggressive behavior and poor response to therapy of high-risk neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC3865347  PMID: 24348903
21.  BET bromodomain protein inhibition is a therapeutic option for medulloblastoma 
Oncotarget  2013;4(11):2080-2095.
Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain tumor of childhood, and represents a significant clinical challenge in pediatric oncology, since overall survival currently remains under 70%. Patients with tumors overexpressing MYC or harboring a MYC oncogene amplification have an extremely poor prognosis. Pharmacologically inhibiting MYC expression may, thus, have clinical utility given its pathogenetic role in medulloblastoma. Recent studies using the selective small molecule BET inhibitor, JQ1, have identified BET bromodomain proteins, especially BRD4, as epigenetic regulatory factors for MYC and its targets. Targeting MYC expression by BET inhibition resulted in antitumoral effects in various cancers. Our aim here was to evaluate the efficacy of JQ1 against preclinical models for high-risk MYC-driven medulloblastoma. Treatment of medulloblastoma cell lines with JQ1 significantly reduced cell proliferation and preferentially induced apoptosis in cells expressing high levels of MYC. JQ1 treatment of medulloblastoma cell lines downregulated MYC expression and resulted in a transcriptional deregulation of MYC targets, and also significantly altered expression of genes involved in cell cycle progression and p53 signalling. JQ1 treatment prolonged the survival of mice harboring medulloblastoma xenografts and reduced the tumor burden in these mice. Our preclinical data provide evidence to pursue testing BET inhibitors, such as JQ1, as molecular targeted therapeutic options for patients with high-risk medulloblastomas overexpressing MYC or harboring MYC amplifications.
PMCID: PMC3875771  PMID: 24231268
BET bromodomains; BRD4; MYC; JQ1; pediatric brain tumors; targeted therapy
22.  Effective Alu Repeat Based RT-Qpcr Normalization in Cancer Cell Perturbation Experiments 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71776.
Measuring messenger RNA (mRNA) levels using the reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) is common practice in many laboratories. A specific set of mRNAs as internal control reference genes is considered as the preferred strategy to normalize RT-qPCR data. Proper selection of reference genes is a critical issue, especially in cancer cells that are subjected to different in vitro manipulations. These manipulations may result in dramatic alterations in gene expression levels, even of assumed reference genes. In this study, we evaluated the expression levels of 11 commonly used reference genes as internal controls for normalization of 19 experiments that include neuroblastoma, T-ALL, melanoma, breast cancer, non small cell lung cancer (NSCL), acute myeloid leukemia (AML), prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and cervical cancer cell lines subjected to various perturbations.
The geNorm algorithm in the software package qbase+ was used to rank the candidate reference genes according to their expression stability. We observed that the stability of most of the candidate reference genes varies greatly in perturbation experiments. Expressed Alu repeats show relatively stable expression regardless of experimental condition. These Alu repeats are ranked among the best reference assays in all perturbation experiments and display acceptable average expression stability values (M<0.5).
We propose the use of Alu repeats as a reference assay when performing cancer cell perturbation experiments.
PMCID: PMC3743747  PMID: 23977142
23.  Pharmacological activation of the p53 pathway by nutlin-3 exerts anti-tumoral effects in medulloblastomas 
Neuro-Oncology  2012;14(7):859-869.
Medulloblastomas account for 20% of pediatric brain tumors. With an overall survival of 40%–70%, their treatment is still a challenge. The majority of medulloblastomas lack p53 mutations, but even in cancers retaining wild-type p53, the tumor surveillance function of p53 is inhibited by the oncoprotein MDM2. Deregulation of the MDM2/p53 balance leads to malignant transformation. Here, we analyzed MDM2 mRNA and protein expression in primary medulloblastomas and normal cerebellum and assessed the mutational status of p53 and MDM2 expression in 6 medulloblastoma cell lines. MDM2 expression was elevated in medulloblastomas, compared with cerebellum. Four of 6 medulloblastoma cell lines expressed wild-type p53 and high levels of MDM2. The tumor-promoting p53-MDM2 interaction can be inhibited by the small molecule, nutlin-3, restoring p53 function. Targeting the p53-MDM2 axis using nutlin-3 significantly reduced cell viability and induced either cell cycle arrest or apoptosis and expression of the p53 target gene p21 in these 4 cell lines. In contrast, DAOY and UW-228 cells harboring TP53 mutations were almost unaffected by nutlin-3 treatment. MDM2 knockdown in medulloblastoma cells by siRNA mimicked nutlin-3 treatment, whereas expression of dominant negative p53 abrogated nutlin-3 effects. Oral nutlin-3 treatment of mice with established medulloblastoma xenografts inhibited tumor growth and significantly increased survival. Thus, nutlin-3 reduced medulloblastoma cell viability in vitro and in vivo by re-activating p53 function. We suggest that inhibition of the MDM2-p53 interaction with nutlin-3 is a promising therapeutic option for medulloblastomas with functional p53 that should be further evaluated in clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3379802  PMID: 22591662
MDM2; medulloblastoma; nutlin-3; p21; wild-type p53
24.  Dynamic Activity of miR-125b and miR-93 during Murine Neural Stem Cell Differentiation In Vitro and in the Subventricular Zone Neurogenic Niche 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67411.
Several microRNAs (miRNAs) that are either specifically enriched or highly expressed in neurons and glia have been described, but the identification of miRNAs modulating neural stem cell (NSC) biology remains elusive. In this study, we exploited high throughput miRNA expression profiling to identify candidate miRNAs enriched in NSC/early progenitors derived from the murine subventricular zone (SVZ). Then, we used lentiviral miRNA sensor vectors (LV.miRT) to monitor the activity of shortlisted miRNAs with cellular and temporal resolution during NSC differentiation, taking advantage of in vitro and in vivo models that recapitulate physiological neurogenesis and gliogenesis and using known neuronal- and glial-specific miRNAs as reference. The LV.miRT platform allowed us monitoring endogenous miRNA activity in low represented cell populations within a bulk culture or within the complexity of CNS tissue, with high sensitivity and specificity. In this way we validated and extended previous results on the neuronal-specific miR-124 and the astroglial-specific miR-23a. Importantly, we describe for the first time a cell type- and differentiation stage-specific modulation of miR-93 and miR-125b in SVZ-derived NSC cultures and in the SVZ neurogenic niche in vivo, suggesting key roles of these miRNAs in regulating NSC function.
PMCID: PMC3694868  PMID: 23826292
25.  CLL Cells Respond to B-Cell Receptor Stimulation with a MicroRNA/mRNA Signature Associated with MYC Activation and Cell Cycle Progression 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e60275.
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is a disease with variable clinical outcome. Several prognostic factors such as the immunoglobulin heavy chain variable genes (IGHV) mutation status are linked to the B-cell receptor (BCR) complex, supporting a role for triggering the BCR in vivo in the pathogenesis. The miRNA profile upon stimulation and correlation with IGHV mutation status is however unknown. To evaluate the transcriptional response of peripheral blood CLL cells upon BCR stimulation in vitro, miRNA and mRNA expression was measured using hybridization arrays and qPCR. We found both IGHV mutated and unmutated CLL cells to respond with increased expression of MYC and other genes associated with BCR activation, and a phenotype of cell cycle progression. Genome-wide expression studies showed hsa-miR-132-3p/hsa-miR-212 miRNA cluster induction associated with a set of downregulated genes, enriched for genes modulated by BCR activation and amplified by Myc. We conclude that BCR triggering of CLL cells induces a transcriptional response of genes associated with BCR activation, enhanced cell cycle entry and progression and suggest that part of the transcriptional profiles linked to IGHV mutation status observed in isolated peripheral blood are not cell intrinsic but rather secondary to in vivo BCR stimulation.
PMCID: PMC3613353  PMID: 23560086

Results 1-25 (74)