Neuroblastomas are the most frequently occurring solid tumors in children under 5 years. Spontaneous regression is more common in neuroblastomas than in any other tumor type, especially in young patients under 12 months. Unfortunately, the full clinical spectrum of neuroblastomas also includes very aggressive tumors, unresponsive to multi-modality treatment and accounting for most of the pediatric cancer mortalities under 5 years of age. It is generally emphasized that more than one biological entity of neuroblastoma exists. Structural genetic defects such as amplification of MYCN, gain of chromosome 17q and LOH of 1p and several other chromosomal regions have proven to be valuable as prognostic factors and will be discussed in relation to their clinical relevance. Recent research is starting to uncover important molecular pathways involved in the pathogenesis of neuroblastomas. The aim of this review is to discuss several important aspects of the biology of the neuroblast, such as the role of overexpressed oncogenes like MYCN and cyclin D1, the mechanisms leading to decreased apoptosis, like overexpression of BCL-2, survivin, NM23, epigenetic silencing of caspase 8 and the role of tumor suppressor genes, like p53, p73 and RASSF1A. In addition, the role of specific proteins overexpressed in neuroblastomas, such as the neurotrophin receptors TrkA, B and C in relation to spontaneous regression and anti-angiogenesis will be discussed. Finally, we will try to relate these pathways to the embryonal origin of neuroblastomas and discuss possible new avenues in the therapeutic approach of future neuroblastoma patients.

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Department of Pediatrics

van Noesel, M., & Versteeg, R. (2004). Pediatric neuroblastomas: Genetic and epigenetic 'Danse Macabre'. Gene (Vol. 325, pp. 1–15). doi:10.1016/j.gene.2003.09.042