Causation of nervous system tumors in children: insights from traditional and genetically engineered animal models

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Pediatric neurogenic tumors include primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs), especially medulloblastoma; ependymomas and choroid plexus papillomas; astrocytomas; retinoblastoma; and sympathetic neuroblastoma. Meningiomas and nerve sheath tumors, although uncommon in childhood, are also significant because they can result from exposures of children to ionizing radiation. Specific chromosomal loci and specific genes are related to each of these tumor types. Virtually all these genes appear to act as tumor suppressor genes, which are inactivated in tumor cells by mutations or by chromosomal loss. In genetically engineered mice, some genes that are clearly associated with specific human tumors (e.g., RB1 in retinoblastoma and NF2 in meningiomas and schwannomas) have no such effect. Other genetic constructs in mice involving the genes p53, ptc1, and Nf1 have produced tumors remarkably similar to some of the human pediatric neoplasms. Some of these tumors become clinically apparent after only a few weeks, while the mice are still juveniles, especially when two or more tumor suppressor genes are inactivated in the same genetic construct. Conversely, at least one genetic pathway in rodents involving point mutation in the coding region of a transforming gene (neu in malignant schwannomas) does not appear to operate in any human tumors. The nervous system is markedly susceptible to experimental carcinogenesis during early life in rodents, dogs, primates, and other nonhuman species, and there is no obvious reason why this generalization should not also apply to humans. However, except for therapeutic ionizing radiation, no physical, chemical, or biological cause of human pediatric nervous system tumors is known. The failure of experimental transplacental carcinogenesis to mirror human pediatric experience more closely may reflect the need for multiple mutational events in target cells, and for experimental carcinogens that are capable of causing the full spectrum of mutations that occur in cancer-related genes in pediatric neurogenic tumors.

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