MYCN induces neuroblastoma in primary neural crest cells

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Neuroblastoma (NBL) is an embryonal cancer of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which causes 15% of pediatric cancer deaths. High-risk NBL is characterized by N-Myc amplification and segmental chromosomal gains and losses. Owing to limited disease models, the etiology of NBL is largely unknown, including both the cell of origin and the majority of oncogenic drivers. We have established a novel system for studying NBL based on the transformation of neural crest cells (NCCs), the progenitor cells of the SNS, isolated from mouse embryonic day 9.5 trunk neural tube explants. Based on pathology and gene expression analysis, we report the first successful transformation of wild-type NCCs into NBL by enforced expression of N-Myc, to generate phenotypically and molecularly accurate tumors that closely model human MYCN-amplified NBL. Using comparative genomic hybridization, we found that NCC-derived NBL tumors acquired copy number gains and losses that are syntenic to those observed in human MYCN-amplified NBL including 17q gain, 2p gain and loss of 1p36. When p53-compromised NCCs were transformed with N-Myc, we generated primitive neuroectodermal tumors with divergent differentiation including osteosarcoma. These subcutaneous tumors were metastatic to regional lymph nodes, liver and lung. Our novel experimental approach accurately models human NBL and establishes a new system with potential to study early stages of NBL oncogenesis, to functionally assess NBL oncogenic drivers and to characterize NBL metastasis.

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