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2.  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.
doi:10.1038/onc.2012.311
PMCID: PMC3477279  PMID: 22797059
miRNA; methylation; tumor suppressor; neuroblastoma; SOX2
3.  Reference loci for RT-qPCR analysis of differentiating human embryonic stem cells 
BMC Molecular Biology  2013;14:21.
Background
Selecting stably expressed reference genes is essential for proper reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction gene expression analysis. However, this choice is not always straightforward. In the case of differentiating human embryonic stem (hES) cells, differentiation itself introduces changes whereby reference gene stability may be influenced.
Results
In this study, we evaluated the stability of various references during retinoic acid-induced (2 microM) differentiation of hES cells. Out of 12 candidate references, beta-2-microglobulin, ribosomal protein L13A and Alu repeats are found to be the most stable for this experimental set-up.
Conclusions
Our results show that some of the commonly used reference genes are actually not amongst the most stable loci during hES cell differentiation promoted by retinoic acid. Moreover, a novel normalization strategy based on expressed Alu repeats is validated for use in hES cell experiments.
doi:10.1186/1471-2199-14-21
PMCID: PMC3848990  PMID: 24028740
Reverse transcription quantitative PCR; Normalization; Reference genes; Alu repeats; Human embryonic stem cells; Stem cell differentiation
4.  Effective Alu Repeat Based RT-Qpcr Normalization in Cancer Cell Perturbation Experiments 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71776.
Background
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.
Results
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).
Conclusions
We propose the use of Alu repeats as a reference assay when performing cancer cell perturbation experiments.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071776
PMCID: PMC3743747  PMID: 23977142
5.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060275
PMCID: PMC3613353  PMID: 23560086
6.  Focal DNA Copy Number Changes in Neuroblastoma Target MYCN Regulated Genes 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e52321.
Neuroblastoma is an embryonic tumor arising from immature sympathetic nervous system cells. Recurrent genomic alterations include MYCN and ALK amplification as well as recurrent patterns of gains and losses of whole or large partial chromosome segments. A recent whole genome sequencing effort yielded no frequently recurring mutations in genes other than those affecting ALK. However, the study further stresses the importance of DNA copy number alterations in this disease, in particular for genes implicated in neuritogenesis. Here we provide additional evidence for the importance of focal DNA copy number gains and losses, which are predominantly observed in MYCN amplified tumors. A focal 5 kb gain encompassing the MYCN regulated miR-17∼92 cluster as sole gene was detected in a neuroblastoma cell line and further analyses of the array CGH data set demonstrated enrichment for other MYCN target genes in focal gains and amplifications. Next we applied an integrated genomics analysis to prioritize MYCN down regulated genes mediated by MYCN driven miRNAs within regions of focal heterozygous or homozygous deletion. We identified RGS5, a negative regulator of G-protein signaling implicated in vascular normalization, invasion and metastasis, targeted by a focal homozygous deletion, as a new MYCN target gene, down regulated through MYCN activated miRNAs. In addition, we expand the miR-17∼92 regulatory network controlling TGFß signaling in neuroblastoma with the ring finger protein 11 encoding gene RNF11, which was previously shown to be targeted by the miR-17∼92 member miR-19b. Taken together, our data indicate that focal DNA copy number imbalances in neuroblastoma (1) target genes that are implicated in MYCN signaling, possibly selected to reinforce MYCN oncogene addiction and (2) serve as a resource for identifying new molecular targets for treatment.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052321
PMCID: PMC3537730  PMID: 23308108
7.  LNCipedia: a database for annotated human lncRNA transcript sequences and structures 
Nucleic Acids Research  2012;41(D1):D246-D251.
Here, we present LNCipedia (http://www.lncipedia.org), a novel database for human long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) transcripts and genes. LncRNAs constitute a large and diverse class of non-coding RNA genes. Although several lncRNAs have been functionally annotated, the majority remains to be characterized. Different high-throughput methods to identify new lncRNAs (including RNA sequencing and annotation of chromatin-state maps) have been applied in various studies resulting in multiple unrelated lncRNA data sets. LNCipedia offers 21 488 annotated human lncRNA transcripts obtained from different sources. In addition to basic transcript information and gene structure, several statistics are determined for each entry in the database, such as secondary structure information, protein coding potential and microRNA binding sites. Our analyses suggest that, much like microRNAs, many lncRNAs have a significant secondary structure, in-line with their presumed association with proteins or protein complexes. Available literature on specific lncRNAs is linked, and users or authors can submit articles through a web interface. Protein coding potential is assessed by two different prediction algorithms: Coding Potential Calculator and HMMER. In addition, a novel strategy has been integrated for detecting potentially coding lncRNAs by automatically re-analysing the large body of publicly available mass spectrometry data in the PRIDE database. LNCipedia is publicly available and allows users to query and download lncRNA sequences and structures based on different search criteria. The database may serve as a resource to initiate small- and large-scale lncRNA studies. As an example, the LNCipedia content was used to develop a custom microarray for expression profiling of all available lncRNAs.
doi:10.1093/nar/gks915
PMCID: PMC3531107  PMID: 23042674
8.  Genome-wide promoter methylation analysis in neuroblastoma identifies prognostic methylation biomarkers 
Genome Biology  2012;13(10):R95.
Background
Accurate outcome prediction in neuroblastoma, which is necessary to enable the optimal choice of risk-related therapy, remains a challenge. To improve neuroblastoma patient stratification, this study aimed to identify prognostic tumor DNA methylation biomarkers.
Results
To identify genes silenced by promoter methylation, we first applied two independent genome-wide methylation screening methodologies to eight neuroblastoma cell lines. Specifically, we used re-expression profiling upon 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (DAC) treatment and massively parallel sequencing after capturing with a methyl-CpG-binding domain (MBD-seq). Putative methylation markers were selected from DAC-upregulated genes through a literature search and an upfront methylation-specific PCR on 20 primary neuroblastoma tumors, as well as through MBD- seq in combination with publicly available neuroblastoma tumor gene expression data. This yielded 43 candidate biomarkers that were subsequently tested by high-throughput methylation-specific PCR on an independent cohort of 89 primary neuroblastoma tumors that had been selected for risk classification and survival. Based on this analysis, methylation of KRT19, FAS, PRPH, CNR1, QPCT, HIST1H3C, ACSS3 and GRB10 was found to be associated with at least one of the classical risk factors, namely age, stage or MYCN status. Importantly, HIST1H3C and GNAS methylation was associated with overall and/or event-free survival.
Conclusions
This study combines two genome-wide methylation discovery methodologies and is the most extensive validation study in neuroblastoma performed thus far. We identified several novel prognostic DNA methylation markers and provide a basis for the development of a DNA methylation-based prognostic classifier in neuroblastoma.
doi:10.1186/gb-2012-13-10-r95
PMCID: PMC3491423  PMID: 23034519
9.  Molecular diagnostics for congenital hearing loss including 15 deafness genes using a next generation sequencing platform 
BMC Medical Genomics  2012;5:17.
Background
Hereditary hearing loss (HL) can originate from mutations in one of many genes involved in the complex process of hearing. Identification of the genetic defects in patients is currently labor intensive and expensive. While screening with Sanger sequencing for GJB2 mutations is common, this is not the case for the other known deafness genes (> 60). Next generation sequencing technology (NGS) has the potential to be much more cost efficient. Published methods mainly use hybridization based target enrichment procedures that are time saving and efficient, but lead to loss in sensitivity. In this study we used a semi-automated PCR amplification and NGS in order to combine high sensitivity, speed and cost efficiency.
Results
In this proof of concept study, we screened 15 autosomal recessive deafness genes in 5 patients with congenital genetic deafness. 646 specific primer pairs for all exons and most of the UTR of the 15 selected genes were designed using primerXL. Using patient specific identifiers, all amplicons were pooled and analyzed using the Roche 454 NGS technology. Three of these patients are members of families in which a region of interest has previously been characterized by linkage studies. In these, we were able to identify two new mutations in CDH23 and OTOF. For another patient, the etiology of deafness was unclear, and no causal mutation was found. In a fifth patient, included as a positive control, we could confirm a known mutation in TMC1.
Conclusions
We have developed an assay that holds great promise as a tool for screening patients with familial autosomal recessive nonsyndromal hearing loss (ARNSHL). For the first time, an efficient, reliable and cost effective genetic test, based on PCR enrichment, for newborns with undiagnosed deafness is available.
doi:10.1186/1755-8794-5-17
PMCID: PMC3443074  PMID: 22607986
Deafness; Next generation sequencing; PCR based enrichment; Genetic diagnostics
10.  Cancer Gene Prioritization for Targeted Resequencing Using FitSNP Scores 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e31333.
Background
Although the throughput of next generation sequencing is increasing and at the same time the cost is substantially reduced, for the majority of laboratories whole genome sequencing of large cohorts of cancer samples is still not feasible. In addition, the low number of genomes that are being sequenced is often problematic for the downstream interpretation of the significance of the variants. Targeted resequencing can partially circumvent this problem; by focusing on a limited number of candidate cancer genes to sequence, more samples can be included in the screening, hence resulting in substantial improvement of the statistical power. In this study, a successful strategy for prioritizing candidate genes for targeted resequencing of cancer genomes is presented.
Results
Four prioritization strategies were evaluated on six different cancer types: genes were ranked using these strategies, and the positive predictive value (PPV) or mutation rate within the top-ranked genes was compared to the baseline mutation rate in each tumor type. Successful strategies generate gene lists in which the top is enriched for known mutated genes, as evidenced by an increase in PPV. A clear example of such an improvement is seen in colon cancer, where the PPV is increased by 2.3 fold compared to the baseline level when 100 top fitSNP genes are sequenced.
Conclusions
A gene prioritization strategy based on the fitSNP scores appears to be most successful in identifying mutated cancer genes across different tumor entities, with variance of gene expression levels as a good second best.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031333
PMCID: PMC3291573  PMID: 22396732
11.  N-Cadherin in Neuroblastoma Disease: Expression and Clinical Significance 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31206.
One of the first and most important steps in the metastatic cascade is the loss of cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions. N-cadherin, a crucial mediator of homotypic and heterotypic cell-cell interactions, might play a central role in the metastasis of neuroblastoma (NB), a solid tumor of neuroectodermal origin. Using Reverse Transcription Quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR), Western blot, immunocytochemistry and Tissue MicroArrays (TMA) we demonstrate the expression of N-cadherin in neuroblastoma tumors and cell lines. All neuroblastic tumors (n = 356) and cell lines (n = 10) expressed various levels of the adhesion protein. The N-cadherin mRNA expression was significantly lower in tumor samples from patients suffering metastatic disease. Treatment of NB cell lines with the N-cadherin blocking peptide ADH-1 (Exherin, Adherex Technologies Inc.), strongly inhibited tumor cell proliferation in vitro by inducing apoptosis. Our results suggest that N-cadherin signaling may play a role in neuroblastoma disease, marking involvement of metastasis and determining neuroblastoma cell viability.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031206
PMCID: PMC3280274  PMID: 22355346
12.  Accurate RT-qPCR gene expression analysis on cell culture lysates 
Scientific Reports  2012;2:222.
Gene expression quantification on cultured cells using the reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) typically involves an RNA purification step that limits sample processing throughput and precludes parallel analysis of large numbers of samples. An approach in which cDNA synthesis is carried out on crude cell lysates instead of on purified RNA samples can offer a fast and straightforward alternative. Here, we evaluate such an approach, benchmarking Ambion's Cells-to-CT kit with the classic workflow of RNA purification and cDNA synthesis, and demonstrate its good accuracy and superior sensitivity.
doi:10.1038/srep00222
PMCID: PMC3257325  PMID: 22355736
13.  The miR-17-92 microRNA cluster regulates multiple components of the TGFβ-pathway in neuroblastoma 
Molecular cell  2010;40(5):762-773.
Summary
The miR-17-92 microRNA cluster is often activated in cancer cells, but the identity of its targets remains elusive. Using SILAC and quantitative mass spectrometry, we examined the effects of activation of the miR-17-92 cluster on global protein expression in neuroblastoma cells. Our results reveal cooperation between individual miR-17-92 miRNAs and implicate miR-17-92 in multiple hallmarks of cancer, including proliferation and cell adhesion. Most importantly, we show that miR-17-92 is a potent inhibitor of TGFβ-signaling. By functioning both upstream and downstream of pSMAD2, miR-17-92 activation triggers downregulation of multiple key effectors along the TGFβ-signaling cascade as well as through direct inhibition of TGFβ-responsive genes.
doi:10.1016/j.molcel.2010.11.038
PMCID: PMC3032380  PMID: 21145484
14.  Practical Tools to Implement Massive Parallel Pyrosequencing of PCR Products in Next Generation Molecular Diagnostics 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e25531.
Despite improvements in terms of sequence quality and price per basepair, Sanger sequencing remains restricted to screening of individual disease genes. The development of massively parallel sequencing (MPS) technologies heralded an era in which molecular diagnostics for multigenic disorders becomes reality. Here, we outline different PCR amplification based strategies for the screening of a multitude of genes in a patient cohort. We performed a thorough evaluation in terms of set-up, coverage and sequencing variants on the data of 10 GS-FLX experiments (over 200 patients). Crucially, we determined the actual coverage that is required for reliable diagnostic results using MPS, and provide a tool to calculate the number of patients that can be screened in a single run. Finally, we provide an overview of factors contributing to false negative or false positive mutation calls and suggest ways to maximize sensitivity and specificity, both important in a routine setting. By describing practical strategies for screening of multigenic disorders in a multitude of samples and providing answers to questions about minimum required coverage, the number of patients that can be screened in a single run and the factors that may affect sensitivity and specificity we hope to facilitate the implementation of MPS technology in molecular diagnostics.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025531
PMCID: PMC3184136  PMID: 21980484
15.  The microRNA body map: dissecting microRNA function through integrative genomics 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(20):e136.
While a growing body of evidence implicates regulatory miRNA modules in various aspects of human disease and development, insights into specific miRNA function remain limited. Here, we present an innovative approach to elucidate tissue-specific miRNA functions that goes beyond miRNA target prediction and expression correlation. This approach is based on a multi-level integration of corresponding miRNA and mRNA gene expression levels, miRNA target prediction, transcription factor target prediction and mechanistic models of gene network regulation. Predicted miRNA functions were either validated experimentally or compared to published data. The predicted miRNA functions are accessible in the miRNA bodymap, an interactive online compendium and mining tool of high-dimensional newly generated and published miRNA expression profiles. The miRNA bodymap enables prioritization of candidate miRNAs based on their expression pattern or functional annotation across tissue or disease subgroup. The miRNA bodymap project provides users with a single one-stop data-mining solution and has great potential to become a community resource.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkr646
PMCID: PMC3203610  PMID: 21835775
16.  Chromosomal and miRNA Expression Patterns Reveal Biologically Distinct Subgroups of 11q− Neuroblastoma 
Purpose
The purpose of this study was to further define the biology of the 11q− neuroblastoma tumor subgroup by the integration of aCGH with miRNA expression profiling data to determine if improved patient stratification is possible.
Experimental Design
A set of primary neuroblastoma (n=160) which was broadly representative of all genetic subtypes was analyzed by aCGH and for the expression of 430 miRNAs. A 15 miRNA expression signature previously demonstrated to be predictive of clinical outcome was used to analyze an independent cohort of 11q− tumors (n=37).
Results
Loss of 4p and gain of 7q occurred at a significantly higher frequency in the 11q−tumors, further defining the genetic characteristics of this subtype. The 11q− tumors could be split into two subgroups using a miRNA expression survival signature which differed significantly in both clinical outcome and the overall frequency of large scale genomic imbalances, with the poor survival subgroup having significantly more imbalances. MiRNAs from the expression signature which were up-regulated in unfavorable tumors were predicted to target down-regulated genes from a published mRNA expression classifier of clinical outcome at a higher than expected frequency, indicating the miRNAs might contribute to the regulation of genes within the signature.
Conclusion
We demonstrate that two distinct biological subtypes of neuroblastoma with loss of 11q occur which differ in their miRNA expression profiles, frequency of segmental imbalances and clinical outcome. A miRNA expression signature, combined with an analysis of segmental imbalances, provides greater prediction of EFS and OS outcomes than 11q status by itself, improving patient stratification.
doi:10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-09-3215
PMCID: PMC2880207  PMID: 20406844
aCGH; MYCN; neuroblastoma; miRNA
17.  Monoallelic but not bialleleic loss of Dicer1 promotes tumorigenesis in vivo 
Cell death and differentiation  2009;17(4):633-641.
SUMMARY
Human tumors are characterized by widespread reduction in microRNA (miRNA) expression [1], although it is unclear how such changes come about and whether they have an etiological role in the disease. Importantly, miRNA-knockdown has been shown to enhance the tumorigenic potential of human lung adenocarcinoma cells [2]. A defect in miRNA-processing is one possible mechanism for the global down-regulation. To explore this possibility in more detail in vivo we have manipulated Dicer1 gene dosage in a mouse model of retinoblastoma. We show that while monoallelic loss of Dicer1 does not affect normal retinal development it dramatically accelerates tumor formation on a retinoblastoma-sensitized background. Importantly, these tumors retain one wild-type Dicer1 allele and exhibit only partial decrease in miRNA-processing. Accordingly, in silico analysis of human cancer genome data reveals frequent hemizygous, but not homozygous, deletions of DICER1. Strikingly, complete loss of Dicer1 function in mice did not accelerate retinoblastoma formation. miRNA profiling of these tumors identified members of the let-7 and miR-34 families as candidate tumor suppressors in retinoblastoma. We conclude that Dicer1 functions as a haploinsufficient tumor suppressor. This finding has implications for cancer aetiology and cancer therapy.
doi:10.1038/cdd.2009.202
PMCID: PMC2892162  PMID: 20019750
Dicer; microRNA; retinoblastoma; tumor suppressor; haploinsufficiency
18.  Outcome Prediction of Children with Neuroblastoma using a Multigene Expression Signature, a Retrospective SIOPEN/COG/GPOH Study 
The lancet oncology  2009;10(7):663-671.
BACKGROUND
More accurate prognostic assessment of patients with neuroblastoma is required to improve the choice of risk-related therapy. The aim of this study is to develop and validate a gene expression signature for improved outcome prediction.
METHODS
Fifty-nine genes were carefully selected based on an innovative data-mining strategy and profiled in the largest neuroblastoma patient series (n=579) to date using RT-qPCR starting from only 20 ng of RNA. A multigene expression signature was built using 30 training samples, tested on 313 test samples and subsequently validated in a blind study on an independent set of 236 additional tumours.
FINDINGS
The signature accurately classifies patients with respect to overall and progression-free survival (p<0·0001). The signature has a performance, sensitivity, and specificity of 85·4% (95%CI: 77·7–93·2), 84·4% (95%CI: 66·5–94·1), and 86·5% (95%CI: 81·1–90·6), respectively to predict patient outcome. Multivariate analysis indicates that the signature is a significant independent predictor after controlling for currently used riskfactors. Patients with high molecular risk have a higher risk to die from disease and for relapse/progression than patients with low molecular risk (odds ratio of 19·32 (95%CI: 6·50–57·43) and 3·96 (95%CI: 1·97–7·97) for OS and PFS, respectively). Patients with increased risk for adverse outcome can also be identified within the current treatment groups demonstrating the potential of this signature for improved clinical management. These results were confirmed in the validation study in which the signature was also independently statistically significant in a model adjusted for MYCN status, age, INSS stage, ploidy, INPC grade of differentiation, and MKI. The high patient/gene ratio (579/59) underlies the observed statistical power and robustness.
INTERPRETATION
A 59-gene expression signature predicts outcome of neuroblastoma patients with high accuracy. The signature is an independent risk predictor, identifying patients with increased risk in the current clinical risk groups. The applied method and signature is suitable for routine lab testing and ready for evaluation in prospective studies.
FUNDING
The Belgian Foundation Against Cancer, found of public interest (project SCIE2006-25), the Children Cancer Fund Ghent, the Belgian Society of Paediatric Haematology and Oncology, the Belgian Kid’s Fund and the Fondation Nuovo-Soldati (JV), the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (KDP, JH), the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (grant number: G•0198•08), the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders, Strategisch basisonderzoek (IWT-SBO 60848), the Fondation Fournier Majoie pour l’Innovation, the Instituto Carlos III,RD 06/0020/0102 Spain, the Italian Neuroblastoma Foundation, the European Community under the FP6 (project: STREP: EET-pipeline, number: 037260), and the Belgian program of Interuniversity Poles of Attraction, initiated by the Belgian State, Prime Minister's Office, Science Policy Programming.
doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(09)70154-8
PMCID: PMC3045079  PMID: 19515614
19.  Measurable impact of RNA quality on gene expression results from quantitative PCR 
Nucleic Acids Research  2011;39(9):e63.
Compromised RNA quality is suggested to lead to unreliable results in gene expression studies. Therefore, assessment of RNA integrity and purity is deemed essential prior to including samples in the analytical pipeline. This may be of particular importance when diagnostic, prognostic or therapeutic conclusions depend on such analyses. In this study, the comparative value of six RNA quality parameters was determined using a large panel of 740 primary tumour samples for which real-time quantitative PCR gene expression results were available. The tested parameters comprise of microfluidic capillary electrophoresis based 18S/28S rRNA ratio and RNA Quality Index value, HPRT1 5′–3′ difference in quantification cycle (Cq) and HPRT1 3′ Cq value based on a 5′/3′ ratio mRNA integrity assay, the Cq value of expressed Alu repeat sequences and a normalization factor based on the mean expression level of four reference genes. Upon establishment of an innovative analytical framework to assess impact of RNA quality, we observed a measurable impact of RNA quality on the variation of the reference genes, on the significance of differential expression of prognostic marker genes between two cancer patient risk groups, and on risk classification performance using a multigene signature. This study forms the basis for further rational assessment of reverse transcription quantitative PCR based results in relation to RNA quality.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkr065
PMCID: PMC3089491  PMID: 21317187
20.  Differential mucosal expression of Th17-related genes between the inflamed colon and ileum of patients with inflammatory bowel disease 
BMC Immunology  2010;11:61.
Background
Immunological and genetic findings implicate Th17 effector cytokines in the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Expression of Th17 pathway-associated genes is mainly studied in colonic disease. The present study assessed the mRNA expression levels of Th17 effector cytokines (IL17A, IL17F, IL21, IL22 and IL26) and genes involved in differentiation (IL6, IL1B, TGFB1, IL23A and STAT3) and recruitment of Th17 cells (CCR6 and CCL20) by quantitative real-time PCR analysis of colonic and ileal biopsies from 22 healthy control subjects, 26 patients with Crohn's disease (CD) and 12 patients with ulcerative colitis (UC). Inflammation was quantified by measuring expression of the inflammatory mediators IL8 and TNF.
Results
Evaluation of mRNA expression levels in colonic and ileal control samples revealed that TNF, TGFB1, STAT3 and CCR6 were expressed at higher levels in the ileum than in the colon. Expression of all the Th17 pathway-associated genes was increased in inflamed colonic samples. The increased expression of these genes was predominantly observed in samples from UC patients and was associated with more intense inflammation. Although increased expression of IL17A, IL17F, IL21 and IL26 was detected in inflamed ileal samples, expression of the indispensable Th17 cell differentiation factors TGFB1 and IL23A, the signaling molecule STAT3 and the Th17 recruitment factors CCR6 and CCL20 were unchanged.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that immune regulation is different in colonic and ileal disease, which might have important consequences for therapeutic intervention.
doi:10.1186/1471-2172-11-61
PMCID: PMC3016394  PMID: 21144017
21.  miR-9, a MYC/MYCN-activated microRNA, regulates E-cadherin and cancer metastasis 
Nature cell biology  2010;12(3):247-256.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are increasingly implicated in regulating the malignant progression of cancer. Here we show that miR-9, the level of which is upregulated in breast cancer cells, directly targets CDH1, the E-cadherin-encoding mRNA, leading to increased cell motility and invasiveness. miR-9-mediated E-cadherin downregulation results in the activation of β-catenin signaling, which contributes to upregulated expression of the gene encoding vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF); this leads, in turn, to increased tumor angiogenesis. Overexpression of miR-9 in otherwise-non-metastatic breast tumor cells enables these cells to form pulmonary micrometastases in mice. Conversely, inhibiting miR-9 using a ‘miRNA sponge’ in highly malignant cells inhibits metastasis formation. Expression of miR-9 is activated by MYC and MYCN, both of which directly bind to the mir-9-3 locus. Significantly, in human cancers, miR-9 levels correlate with MYCN amplification, tumor grade, and metastatic status. These findings uncover a regulatory and signaling pathway involving a metastasis-promoting miRNA that is predicted to directly target expression of the key metastasis-suppressing protein E-cadherin.
doi:10.1038/ncb2024
PMCID: PMC2845545  PMID: 20173740
22.  The emerging molecular pathogenesis of neuroblastoma: implications for improved risk assessment and targeted therapy 
Genome Medicine  2009;1(7):74.
Neuroblastoma is one of the most common solid tumors of childhood, arising from immature sympathetic nervous system cells. The clinical course of patients with neuroblastoma is highly variable, ranging from spontaneous regression to widespread metastatic disease. Although the outcome for children with cancer has improved considerably during the past decades, the prognosis of children with aggressive neuroblastoma remains dismal. The clinical heterogeneity of neuroblastoma mirrors the biological and genetic heterogeneity of these tumors. Ploidy and MYCN amplification have been used as genetic markers for risk stratification and therapeutic decision making, and, more recently, gene expression profiling and genome-wide DNA copy number analysis have come into the picture as sensitive and specific tools for assessing prognosis. The applica tion of new genetic tools also led to the discovery of an important familial neuroblastoma cancer gene, ALK, which is mutated in approximately 8% of sporadic tumors, and genome-wide association studies have unveiled loci with risk alleles for neuroblastoma development. For some of the genomic regions that are deleted in some neuroblastomas, on 1p, 3p and 11q, candidate tumor suppressor genes have been identified. In addition, evidence has emerged for the contribution of epigenetic disturbances in neuroblastoma oncogenesis. As in other cancer entities, altered microRNA expression is also being recognized as an important player in neuroblastoma. The recent successes in unraveling the genetic basis of neuroblastoma are now opening opportunities for development of targeted therapies.
doi:10.1186/gm74
PMCID: PMC2717400  PMID: 19638189
23.  Analysing 454 amplicon resequencing experiments using the modular and database oriented Variant Identification Pipeline 
BMC Bioinformatics  2010;11:269.
Background
Next-generation amplicon sequencing enables high-throughput genetic diagnostics, sequencing multiple genes in several patients together in one sequencing run. Currently, no open-source out-of-the-box software solution exists that reliably reports detected genetic variations and that can be used to improve future sequencing effectiveness by analyzing the PCR reactions.
Results
We developed an integrated database oriented software pipeline for analysis of 454/Roche GS-FLX amplicon resequencing experiments using Perl and a relational database. The pipeline enables variation detection, variation detection validation, and advanced data analysis, which provides information that can be used to optimize PCR efficiency using traditional means. The modular approach enables customization of the pipeline where needed and allows researchers to adopt their analysis pipeline to their experiments. Clear documentation and training data is available to test and validate the pipeline prior to using it on real sequencing data.
Conclusions
We designed an open-source database oriented pipeline that enables advanced analysis of 454/Roche GS-FLX amplicon resequencing experiments using SQL-statements. This modular database approach allows easy coupling with other pipeline modules such as variant interpretation or a LIMS system. There is also a set of standard reporting scripts available.
doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-269
PMCID: PMC2880033  PMID: 20487544
24.  Deep sequencing reveals differential expression of microRNAs in favorable versus unfavorable neuroblastoma 
Nucleic Acids Research  2010;38(17):5919-5928.
Small non-coding RNAs, in particular microRNAs(miRNAs), regulate fine-tuning of gene expression and can act as oncogenes or tumor suppressor genes. Differential miRNA expression has been reported to be of functional relevance for tumor biology. Using next-generation sequencing, the unbiased and absolute quantification of the small RNA transcriptome is now feasible. Neuroblastoma(NB) is an embryonal tumor with highly variable clinical course. We analyzed the small RNA transcriptomes of five favorable and five unfavorable NBs using SOLiD next-generation sequencing, generating a total of >188 000 000 reads. MiRNA expression profiles obtained by deep sequencing correlated well with real-time PCR data. Cluster analysis differentiated between favorable and unfavorable NBs, and the miRNA transcriptomes of these two groups were significantly different. Oncogenic miRNAs of the miR17-92 cluster and the miR-181 family were overexpressed in unfavorable NBs. In contrast, the putative tumor suppressive microRNAs, miR-542-5p and miR-628, were expressed in favorable NBs and virtually absent in unfavorable NBs. In-depth sequence analysis revealed extensive post-transcriptional miRNA editing. Of 13 identified novel miRNAs, three were further analyzed, and expression could be confirmed in a cohort of 70 NBs.
doi:10.1093/nar/gkq342
PMCID: PMC2943620  PMID: 20466808
25.  Multiplex Amplicon Quantification (MAQ), a fast and efficient method for the simultaneous detection of copy number alterations in neuroblastoma 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:298.
Background
Cancer genomes display characteristic patterns of chromosomal imbalances, often with diagnostic and prognostic relevance. Therefore assays for genome-wide copy number screening and simultaneous detection of copy number alterations in specific chromosomal regions are of increasing importance in the diagnostic work-up of tumors.
Results
We tested the performance of Multiplex Amplicon Quantification, a newly developed low-cost, closed-tube and high-throughput PCR-based technique for detection of copy number alterations in regions with prognostic relevance for neuroblastoma. Comparison with array CGH and the established Multiplex Ligation-dependent Probe Amplification method on 52 neuroblastoma tumors showed that Multiplex Amplicon Quantification can reliably detect the important genomic aberrations.
Conclusion
Multiplex Amplicon Quantification is a low-cost and high-throughput PCR-based technique that can reliably detect copy number alterations in regions with prognostic relevance for neuroblastoma.
doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-298
PMCID: PMC2879279  PMID: 20459859

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