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1.  ALK mutations confer differential oncogenic activation and sensitivity to ALK inhibition therapy in neuroblastoma 
Cancer cell  2014;26(5):682-694.
Genetic studies have established anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK), a cell surface receptor tyrosine kinase, as a tractable molecular target in neuroblastoma. We describe comprehensive genomic, biochemical, and computational analyses of ALK mutations across 1596 diagnostic neuroblastoma samples. ALK tyrosine kinase domain mutations occurred in 8% of samples; at three hotspots plus 13 minor sites – and correlated significantly with poorer survival in high- and intermediate-risk neuroblastoma. Biochemical and computational studies distinguished oncogenic (constitutively activating) from non-oncogenic mutations and allowed robust computational prediction of their effects. We also established differential in vitro crizotinib sensitivity of mutated variants. Our studies identify ALK genomic status as a clinically important therapeutic stratification tool in neuroblastoma, and will allow tailoring of ALK-targeted therapy to specific mutations.
PMCID: PMC4269829  PMID: 25517749
2.  Neuroblastoma - Undifferentiated Subtype, Prognostic Significance of Prominent Nucleolar Formation and MYC/MYCN Protein Expression: A Report from the Children’s Oncology Group 
Cancer  2013;119(20):3718-3726.
To investigate biological/clinicopathological characteristics of neuroblastoma, undifferentiated subtype (NBUD).
Patients and Methods
157 NBUD cases filed at the Children’s Oncology Group Neuroblastoma Pathology Reference Laboratory were studied, and survival rates of the patients were analyzed with known prognostic factors. Immunostainings for MYCN and MYC protein were performed on 68 tumors.
NBUD cases had a poor prognosis (48.4±5.0% 3-year event-free survival [EFS]; 56.5±5.0% overall survival), and were often associated with high Mitosis-Karyorrhexis Index (MKI, 65%), prominent nucleoli (PN, 83%), ≥18months of age (75%), MYCN amplification (MYCN-A, 83%), diploid pattern (63%), and 1pLOH (loss of heterozygosity, 72%). However, these prognostic indicators, except for MYCN status, had no significant impact on survival. Surprisingly, EFS for patients with MYCN-A tumors (53.4±5.6%) was significantly better (P=0.0248) than for patients with MYCN-Non-Amplified (MYCN-NA) tumors (31.7±11.7%), with MYCN-NA and PN (+) tumors having the worst prognosis (9.3+8.8%, p=0.0045). Immunohistochemically, MYCN expression was found in 42/48 MYCN-A tumors. In contrast, MYC expression was almost exclusively found in the MYCN-NA tumors (9/20) especially when they had PN (8/11). Those patients with only MYC-positive tumors had the worst EFS (N=8, 12.5±11.7%) compared with only MYCN-positive (N=39, 49.9±17.7%) and both negative tumors (N=15, 70.0±17.1%) (P=0.0029). High MKI was often found in only MYCN-positive (30/38) but rarely in only MYC-positive (2/8) tumors.
NBUD represents a unique subtype of neuroblastoma associated with a poor prognosis. In this subtype, MYC protein expression may be a new prognostic factor indicating more aggressive clinical behavior than MYCN amplification and subsequent MYCN protein expression.
PMCID: PMC4554323  PMID: 23901000
Neuroblastoma; undifferentiated subtype; MYCN Amplification; MYC/MYCN expression; prognostic factors; MYC gene expression
3.  A Pilot Study of Tandem High Dose Chemotherapy with Stem Cell Rescue as Consolidation for High Risk Neuroblastoma: Children’s Oncology Group study ANBL00P1 
Bone marrow transplantation  2013;48(7):947-952.
Increasing treatment intensity has improved outcomes for children with neuroblastoma. We performed a pilot study in the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) to assess feasibility and toxicity of a tandem myeloablative regimen without total body irradiation (TBI) supported by autologous CD34 selected peripheral blood stem cells. Forty-one patients with high-risk neuroblastoma were enrolled; eight patients did not receive any myeloablative consolidation procedure, and seven received only one. Two patients out of 41 (4.9%) experienced transplant-related mortality. CD34 selection was discontinued after subjects were enrolled due to serious viral illness. From the time of study enrollment, the overall 3-year event-free survival (EFS) and overall survival (OS) were 44.8±9.6% and 59.2±9.2% (N=41). These results demonstrate that tandem transplantation in the cooperative group setting is feasible and support a randomized comparison of single versus tandem myeloablative consolidation with PBSC support for high-risk neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC3638062  PMID: 23334272
pediatric; neuroblastoma; tandem transplant; hematopoietic stem cell transplant
4.  Mechanisms of CHD5 Inactivation in Neuroblastomas 
Clinical Cancer Research  2012;18(6):1588-1597.
Neuroblastomas (NBs) have genomic, biological and clinical heterogeneity. High-risk NBs are characterized by several genomic changes, including MYCN amplification and 1p36 deletion. We identified the chromatin-remodeling gene CHD5 as a tumor suppressor gene that maps to 1p36.31. Low or absent CHD5 expression is associated with a 1p36 deletion and an unfavorable outcome, but the mechanisms of CHD5 inactivation in NBs are unknown.
Experimental Design
We examined 1) the CHD5 sequence in 188 high-risk NBs investigated through the TARGET initiative; 2) the methylation status of the CHD5 promoter in 108 NBs with or without 1p36 deletion and/or MYCN amplification; and 3) mRNA expression of CHD5 and MYCN in 814 representative NBs using TaqMan low-density array microfluidic cards.
We found no examples of somatically acquired CHD5 mutations, even in cases with 1p36 deletion, indicating that homozygous genomic inactivation is rare. Methylation of the CHD5 promoter was common in the high-risk tumors, and it was generally associated with both 1p deletion and MYCN amplification. High CHD5 expression was a powerful predictor of favorable outcome, and it showed prognostic value even in multivariable analysis after adjusting for MYCN amplification, 1p36 deletion, and/or 11q deletion.
We conclude that 1) somatically acquired CHD5 mutations are rare in primary NBs, so inactivation probably occurs by deletion and epigenetic silencing; 2) CHD5 expression and promoter methylation are associated with MYCN amplification, suggesting a possible interaction between these two genes; and 3) high CHD5 expression is strongly correlated with favorable clinical/biological features and outcome.
PMCID: PMC3306487  PMID: 22294723
Neuroblastoma; CHD5; expression; methylation; mutation
5.  Phase II study of oral capsular 4-hydroxyphenylretinamide (4-HPR/fenretinide) in pediatric patients with refractory or recurrent neuroblastoma: A report from the Children’s Oncology Group NSC #374551; IND# 40294 
To determine the response rate to oral capsular fenretinide in children with recurrent or biopsy proven refractory high-risk neuroblastoma.
Experimental Design
Patients received 7 days of fenretinide: 2475 mg/m2/day divided TID (<18 years) or 1800 mg/m2/day divided BID (≥18 years) every 21 days for a maximum of 30 courses. Patients with stable or responding disease after course 30 could request additional compassionate courses. Best response by course 8 was evaluated in Stratum 1 (measurable disease on CT/MRI +/− bone marrow and/or MIBG avid sites) and Stratum 2 (bone marrow and/or MIBG avid sites only).
Sixty-two eligible patients, median age 5 years (range 0.6–19.9), were treated in Stratum 1 (n=38) and Stratum 2 (n=24). One partial response (PR) was seen in Stratum 2 (n=24 evaluable). No responses were seen in Stratum 1 (n=35 evaluable). Prolonged stable disease (SD) was seen in 7 patients in Stratum 1 and 6 patients in Stratum 2 for 4–45+ (median 15) courses. Median time to progression was 40 days (range 17–506) for Stratum 1 and 48 days (range 17–892) for Stratum 2. Mean 4-HPR steady state trough plasma concentrations were 7.25 µM (coefficient of variation 40–56%) at day 7 course 1. Toxicities were mild and reversible.
Although neither stratum met protocol criteria for efficacy, 1 PR + 13 prolonged SD occurred in 14/59 (24%) of evaluable patients. Low bioavailability may have limited fenretinide activity. Novel fenretinide formulations with improved bioavailability are currently in pediatric Phase I studies.
PMCID: PMC3207022  PMID: 21908574
fenretinide; neuroblastoma; Phase II; ANBL0321
6.  Integrative genomics identifies LMO1 as a neuroblastoma oncogene 
Nature  2010;469(7329):216-220.
Neuroblastoma is a childhood cancer of the sympathetic nervous system that accounts for approximately 10% of all paediatric oncology deaths1,2. To identify genetic risk factors for neuroblastoma, we performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) on 2,251 patients and 6,097 control subjects of European ancestry from four case series. Here we report a significant association within LIM domain only 1 (LMO1) at 11p15.4 (rs110419, combined P = 5.2 × 10−16, odds ratio of risk allele = 1.34 (95% confidence interval 1.25–1.44)). The signal was enriched in the subset of patients with the most aggressive form of the disease. LMO1 encodes a cysteine-rich transcriptional regulator, and its paralogues (LMO2, LMO3 and LMO4) have each been previously implicated in cancer. In parallel, we analysed genome-wide DNA copy number alterations in 701 primary tumours. We found that the LMO1 locus was aberrant in 12.4% through a duplication event, and that this event was associated with more advanced disease (P < 0.0001) and survival (P = 0.041). The germline single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) risk alleles and somatic copy number gains were associated with increased LMO1 expression in neuroblastoma cell lines and primary tumours, consistent with a gain-of-function role in tumorigenesis. Short hairpin RNA (shRNA)-mediated depletion of LMO1 inhibited growth of neuroblastoma cells with high LMO1 expression, whereas forced expression of LMO1 in neuroblastoma cells with low LMO1 expression enhanced proliferation. These data show that common polymorphisms at the LMO1 locus are strongly associated with susceptibility to developing neuroblastoma, but also may influence the likelihood of further somatic alterations at this locus, leading to malignant progression.
PMCID: PMC3320515  PMID: 21124317
7.  Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Risk and Survival in Children With Neuroblastoma: A Children's Oncology Group Study 
Journal of Clinical Oncology  2010;29(1):76-82.
Although health disparities are well-described for many cancers, little is known about racial and ethnic disparities in neuroblastoma. To evaluate differences in disease presentation and survival by race and ethnicity, data from the Children's Oncology Group (COG) were analyzed.
Patients and Methods
The racial/ethnic differences in clinical and biologic risk factors, and outcome of patients with neuroblastoma enrolled on COG ANBL00B1 between 2001 and 2009 were investigated.
A total of 3,539 patients (white, 72%; black, 12%; Hispanic, 12%; Asian, 4%; and Native American, < 1%) with neuroblastoma were included. The 5-year event-free survival (EFS) rates were 67% for whites (95% CI, 65% to 69%), 69% for Hispanics (95% CI, 63% to 74%), 62% for Asians (95% CI, 51% to 71%), 56% for blacks (95% CI, 50% to 62%), and 37% for Native American (95% CI, 17% to 58%). Blacks (P < .001) and Native Americans (P = .04) had a higher prevalence of high-risk disease than whites, and significantly worse EFS (P = .01 and P = .002, respectively). Adjustment for risk group abrogated these differences. However, closer examination of the EFS among high-risk patients who remained event free for 2 years or longer, revealed a higher prevalence of late-occurring events among blacks compared with whites (hazard ratio, 1.5; 95% CI, 1.0 to 2.3; P = .04).
Black and Native American patients with neuroblastoma have a higher prevalence of high-risk disease, accounting for their worse EFS when compared with whites. The higher prevalence of late-occurring events among blacks with high-risk disease suggests that this population may be more resistant to chemotherapy. Studies focused on delineating the genetic basis for the racial disparities observed in this study are planned.
PMCID: PMC3055862  PMID: 21098321
8.  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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC3045079  PMID: 19515614
9.  Influence of Neuroblastoma Stage on Serum-Based Detection of MYCN Amplification 
Pediatric blood & cancer  2009;53(3):329-331.
MYCN oncogene amplification has been defined as the most important prognostic factor for neuroblastoma, the most common solid extracranial neoplasm in children. High copy numbers are strongly associated with rapid tumor progression and poor outcome, independently of tumor stage or patient age, and this has become an important factor in treatment stratification.
By Real Time Quantitative PCR analysis, we evaluated the clinical relevance of circulating MYCN DNA of 267 patients with locoregional or metastatic neuroblastoma in children less than 18 months of age.
For patients in this age group with INSS stage 4 or 4S NB and stage 3 patients, serum-based determination of MYCN DNA sequences had good sensitivity (85%, 83% and 75% respectively) and high specificity (100%) when compared to direct tumor gene determination. In contrast, the approach showed low sensitivity patients with stage 1 and 2 disease.
Our results show that the sensitivity of the serum-based MYCN DNA sequence determination depends on the stage of the disease. However, this simple, reproducible assay may represent a reasonably sensitive and very specific tool to assess tumor MYCN status in cases with stage 3 and metastatic disease for whom a wait and see strategy is often recommended.
PMCID: PMC2857568  PMID: 19301388
Circulating DNA; MYCN amplification; neuroblastoma
10.  Prognostic significance of interleukin-6 single nucleotide polymorphism genotypes in neuroblastoma: rs1800795 (promoter) and rs8192284 (receptor) 
Neuroblastoma is a childhood cancer of the sympathetic nervous system and many patients present with high risk disease. Risk stratification, based on pathology and tumor-derived biomarkers, has improved prediction of clinical outcomes, but overall survival rates remain unfavorable and new therapeutic targets are needed. Some studies suggest a link between interleukin-6 and more aggressive behavior in neuroblastoma tumor cells. Therefore, we examined the impact of two IL-6 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) on neuroblastoma disease progression.
Experimental design
DNA samples from 96 high risk neuroblastoma patients were screened for two SNP that are known to regulate the serum levels of IL-6 and the soluble IL-6 receptor (IL-6R), rs1800795 and rs8192284 respectively. The genotype for each SNP was determined in a blinded fashion and independent statistical analysis was performed to determine SNP-related event free survival (EFS) and overall survival (OS) rates.
The rs1800795 IL-6 promoter SNP is an independent prognostic factor for EFS and OS in -high risk neuroblastoma patients. In contrast, the rs8192284 IL-6 receptor SNP revealed no prognostic value.
The rs1800795 SNP (-174 IL-6 (G>C) represents a novel and independent prognostic marker for both EFS and OS in high risk neuroblastoma. Since the rs1800795 SNP (-174 IL-6 (G>C) has been shown to correlate with production of IL-6, this cytokine may represent a target for development of new therapies in neuroblastoma.
PMCID: PMC2740837  PMID: 19671870
11.  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
12.  Copy number variation at 1q21.1 associated with neuroblastoma 
Nature  2009;459(7249):987-991.
Common copy number variations (CNVs) represent a significant source of genetic diversity, yet their influence on phenotypic variability, including disease susceptibility, remains poorly understood. To address this problem in cancer, we performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) of CNVs in the childhood cancer neuroblastoma, a disease where SNP variations are known to influence susceptibility1,2. We first genotyped 846 Caucasian neuroblastoma patients and 803 healthy Caucasian controls at 550,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms, and performed a CNV-based test for association. We then replicated significant observations in two independent sample sets comprised of a total of 595 cases and 3,357 controls. We identified a common CNV at 1q21.1 associated with neuroblastoma in the discovery set, which was confirmed in both replication sets (Pcombined = 2.97 × 10−17; OR = 2.49, 95% CI: 2.02 to 3.05). This CNV was validated by quantitative PCR, fluorescent in situ hybridization, and analysis of matched tumor specimens, and was shown to be heritable in an independent set of 713 cancer-free trios. We identified a novel transcript within the CNV which showed high sequence similarity to several “Neuroblastoma breakpoint family” (NBPF) genes3,4 and represents a new member of this gene family (NBPFX). This transcript was preferentially expressed in fetal brain and fetal sympathetic nervous tissues, and expression level was strictly correlated with CNV state in neuroblastoma cells. These data demonstrate that inherited copy number variation at 1q21.1 is associated with neuroblastoma and implicate a novel NBPF gene in early tumorigenesis of this childhood cancer.
PMCID: PMC2755253  PMID: 19536264
13.  Activating mutations in ALK provide a therapeutic target in neuroblastoma 
Nature  2008;455(7215):975-978.
Neuroblastoma, an embryonal tumor of the peripheral sympathetic nervous system, accounts for approximately 15% of all deaths due to childhood cancer1. High-risk neuroblastomas, prevalent in the majority of patients, are rapidly progressive; even with intensive myeloablative chemotherapy, relapse is common and almost uniformly fatal2,3. Here we report the detection of previously unknown mutations in the ALK gene, which encodes a receptor tyrosine kinase, in 8% of primary neuroblastomas. Five non-synonymous sequence variations were identified in the kinase domain of ALK, of which three were somatic and two were germline. The most frequent mutation, F1174L, was also identified in three different neuroblastoma cell lines. ALK cDNAs encoding the F1174L and R1275Q variants, but not the wild-type ALK cDNA, transformed IL-3-dependent murine hematopoietic Ba/F3 cells to cytokine-independent growth. Ba/F3 cells expressing these mutations were sensitive to a small-molecule inhibitor of ALK, TAE6844. Furthermore, two human neuroblastoma cell lines harboring the F1174L mutation were sensitive to the inhibitor. Cytotoxicity was associated with increased levels of apoptosis as measured by TUNEL-labeling. shRNA-mediated knockdown of ALK expression in neuroblastoma cell lines with the F1174L mutation also resulted in apoptosis and impaired cell proliferation. Thus, activating alleles of the ALK receptor tyrosine kinase are present in primary neuroblastoma tumors and in established neuroblastoma cell lines, and confer sensitivity to ALK inhibition with small molecules, providing a molecular rationale for targeted therapy of this disease.
PMCID: PMC2587486  PMID: 18923525

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