Role of Merlin/NF2 inactivation in tumor biology

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Abstract

Merlin (Moesin-ezrin-radixin-like protein, also known as schwannomin) is a tumor suppressor protein encoded by the neurofibromatosis type 2 gene NF2. Loss of function mutations or deletions in NF2 cause neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), a multiple tumor forming disease of the nervous system. NF2 is characterized by the development of bilateral vestibular schwannomas. Patients with NF2 can also develop schwannomas on other cranial and peripheral nerves, as well as meningiomas and ependymomas. The only potential treatment is surgery/radiosurgery, which often results in loss of function of the involved nerve. There is an urgent need for chemotherapies that slow or eliminate tumors and prevent their formation in NF2 patients. Interestingly NF2 mutations and merlin inactivation also occur in spontaneous schwannomas and meningiomas, as well as other types of cancer including mesothelioma, glioma multiforme, breast, colorectal, skin, clear cell renal cell carcinoma, hepatic and prostate cancer. Except for malignant mesotheliomas, the role of NF2 mutation or inactivation has not received much attention in cancer, and NF2 might be relevant for prognosis and future chemotherapeutic approaches. This review discusses the influence of merlin loss of function in NF2-related tumors and common human cancers. We also discuss the NF2 gene status and merlin signaling pathways affected in the different tumor types and the molecular mechanisms that lead to tumorigenesis, progression and pharmacological resistance.

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