Childhood tumors of the nervous system as disorders of normal development

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Purpose of review

Advances in tumor genetics have increasingly linked pediatric neoplasms with disordered mechanisms of normal development, supporting the model of embryonal tumorigenesis. We provide a detailed discussion of two pediatric neural tumors, medulloblastoma and neuroblastoma, addressing tumorigenic causality and similarities within a pharmacological context.

Recent findings

Expression profiling, elegant murine models, and chemical blockades of oncogenic signaling pathways have encouraged a new generation of therapeutic approaches for tumor treatment. Recent data have further clarified regulation of neural developmental and factors triggering malignancy.


Medulloblastoma and neuroblastoma exemplify the current embryonal tumor model. Sonic hedgehog signaling is required for cerebellar development and its dysregulation is implicated in formation of medulloblastoma. The transcription factor Mycn orchestrates proliferation and differentiation of the developing peripheral neural crest. Amplification of the MYCN gene is the predominant marker for aggressive neuroblastoma, and correlates with poor prognosis. Current evidence suggests that Mycn is also the primary executor of Sonic hedgehog signaling in the cerebellum and that the Sonic hedgehog pathway regulates levels of both MYCN mRNA and Mycn protein product independently. Destabilization of Myc through inhibition of phosphoinositide 3-kinase signaling exhibits promise not only in medulloblastoma and neuroblastoma, but in a wide range of Myc-driven tumors.

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