Heparan Sulfate Signaling in Neuroblastoma Pathogenesis and Differentiation Therapy
Growth factors and their receptors coordinate neuronal differentiation during development, yet their roles in the embyronal tumor neuroblastoma, where differentiation is a validated treatment strategy, remain unclear. The neuroblastoma tumor stroma is thought to suppress neuroblast growth via release of soluble differentiating factors. Here we identify critical components of the differentiating stroma secretome and describe preclinical testing of a novel therapeutic strategy based on their mechanism of action.
Expression of heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs), including TβRIII, GPC1, GPC3, SDC3, and SDC4, is decreased in neuroblastoma, high in the stroma, and suppresses tumor growth. High expression of TβRIII, GPC1, and SDC3 is associated with improved patient prognosis. HSPGs signal via heparan sulfate binding to FGFR1 and FGF2, which leads to phosphorylation of FGFR1 and Erk MAPK, and upregulation of the transcription factor inhibitor of DNA binding 1 (Id1). Surface expression and treatment with soluble HSPGs promotes neuroblast differentiation via this signaling complex. Expression of individual HSPGs positively correlates with Id1 expression in neuroblastoma patient samples and multivariate regression demonstrates that expression of HSPGs as a group positively correlates with Id1 expression, underscoring the clinical relevance of this pathway. HSPGs also enhance differentiation from FGF2 released by the stroma and FGF2 is identified as a potential serum prognostic biomarker in neuroblastoma patients.
The anticoagulant heparin has similar differentiating effects to HSPGs, decreasing neuroblast proliferation and reducing tumor growth while extending survival in an orthotopic xenograft model of neuroblastoma. Dissection of individual sulfation sites identifies 2-O-, 3-O-de-sulfated heparin (ODSH) as a differentiating agent that suppresses orthotopic xenograft growth and metastasis in two models while avoiding anticoagulation. These studies form the preclinical rationale for a multicenter clinical trial currently being proposed.
In conclusion, these studies translate mechanistic insights in neuroblast HSPG function to identify heparins as differentiating agents for clinical development in neuroblastoma, while demonstrating that tumor stroma biology can inform design of targeted molecular therapeutics.
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