Growth factors and their receptors coordinate neuronal differentiation during development, yet their roles in the pediatric tumor neuroblastoma remain unclear. Comparison of mRNA from benign neuroblastic tumors and neuroblastomas revealed that expression of the type III TGF-β receptor (TGFBR3) decreases with advancing stage of neuroblastoma and this loss correlates with a poorer prognosis. Patients with MYCN oncogene amplification and low TGFBR3 expression were more likely to have an adverse outcome. In vitro, TβRIII expression was epigenetically suppressed by MYCN-mediated recruitment of histone deacetylases to regions of the TGFBR3 promoter. TβRIII bound FGF2 and exogenous FGFR1, which promoted neuronal differentiation of neuroblastoma cells. TβRIII and FGF2 cooperated to induce expression of the transcription factor inhibitor of DNA binding 1 via Erk MAPK. TβRIII-mediated neuronal differentiation suppressed cell proliferation in vitro as well as tumor growth and metastasis in vivo. These studies characterize a coreceptor function for TβRIII in FGF2-mediated neuronal differentiation, while identifying potential therapeutic targets and clinical biomarkers for neuroblastoma.


Erik H. Knelson, Angela L. Gaviglio, Alok K. Tewari, Michael B. Armstrong, Karthikeyan Mythreye, Gerard C. Blobe


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