Genetic studies of neuroblastoma with emphasis on the apoptotic pathway
Abstract: Aim: The objective of this thesis was to find genes and chromosomal regions involved in neuroblastoma (NB) tumor progression. NB is a childhood tumor of the sympathetic nervous system that generally occurs spontaneously. Biologically, NB has a complex heterogeneity from tumor progression to tumor regression, dependent on clinical stage and age at diagnosis. The main genetic markers, which are also of prognostic value in NB, are amplification of the oncogene MYCN, deletion of chromosome arm 1p and gain of chromosome arm 17q. Results: We have been shown using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) on a Scandinavian tumor material, that 17q gain is present in approximately 65% of all NB stages, is significantly associated with poor prognosis and predicts survival. The gene encoding somatostatin receptor 2 (SSTR2), localized in chromosome region 17q24, was not found to be mutated in any NB, when analyzed with PCR-based single stranded conformation polymorphism/heteroduplex (SSCP/HD) and DNA sequencing. In a tentative effort of defining of the location of a general embryonal tumor suppressor gene (TSG) on 1p, we combined the smallest region of overlap (SRO) of 1p deletions in NB tumors and germ cell tumors (GCTs). We thus delimited the NB/GCT SRO to approximately 5 cM between markers D1S508 and D1S244, and fine-mapped this region by radiation hybrid mapping and construction of a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) contig. A homozygously deleted region in an NB cell line was found to partially overlap the proximal part of the 5 cM-SRO defined by us, which further focused our search for a TSG to a 500 kb candidate region in 1p36.22. Two attractive candidate NB TSGs, DFFA and CASP9, are both located in 1p36.2 and encode key apoptotic mediators. In fact, DFFA resides in the 500 kb TSG candidate region. Via sequence analysis of the entire tumor material, we found three different coding alterations in DFFA which all affect the highly conserved N-terminal regulatory domain of DFF45. Using RT-PCR and real-time RT-PCR (TaqMan) studies, we were able to show that both DFFA and CASP9 are preferably expressed in NB tumors with favorable outcome. It has been proposed that lack of apoptosis plays an important role in tumor progression. We therefore screened an array with cDNAs involved in the apoptotic process, to find genes differentially expressed in NB tumors with unfavorable versus favorable biology. Using real-time RT-PCR analysis, we verified the differential expression of several transcripts encoding mitochondrial apoptotic mediators. Conclusions: We have shown that 17q gain is the most frequently detected alteration in NB and that it is associated with established prognostic factors. We narrowed down the TSG candidate region on 1p and found mutations in a gene localized in the region possessing fundamental functions in apoptosis. Our results also suggest that the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway is suppressed at multiple steps in advanced stages of NB tumors, due to imbalance between anti-apoptotic and pro-apoptotic mediators.
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