Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common soft-tissue sarcoma occurring in children and young adults. These tumors are unique among sarcomas in that they are thought to derive from skeletal muscle tissue. Tumors express myogenic markers, but fail to undergo terminal differentiation. Two subclasses of rhabdomyosarcomas exist, the embryonal and alveolar. Whereas the embryonal form compromises the majority of cases and is more responsive to multi-modal therapy, alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma is a more primitive malignant neoplasm where prognosis for children with advanced disease remains dismal. Therefore, effective therapies will likely hinge on our abilities to better resolve the underlying mechanisms of alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. NF-kappaB is a transcription factor whose signaling pathway has been implicated in a variety of cancers. In skeletal muscle, NF-kappaB functions in immature cells to negatively regulate terminal differentiation. Recently we discovered that NF-kappaB functions in this capacity by participating in a regulatory circuit with the Polycomb group protein, YY1, and the microRNA, miR-29. In undifferentiated myoblasts, NF-kappaB stimulates YY1 production, which epigenetically silences miR-29. However, as differentiation ensues, NF-kappaB activity decreases causing a concomitant reduction of YY1 and a derepression of miR-29. This microRNA in turn feeds back on YY1 to further reduce its expression and favor a differentiation state. Significantly, in rhabdomyosarcoma cell lines and primary tumors NF-kappaB - YY1 - miR-29 circuitry becomes deregulated as a result of elevated levels of NF-kappaB that cause silencing of miR-29. Further results indicate that NF-kappaB activation in rhabdomyosarcoma is mediated through the NF-kappaB classical pathway that switches from the alternative pathway found in normal differentiated muscle. Inhibition of classical NF-kappaB signaling in rhabdomyosarcoma cells restores the regulatory circuit and promotes a muscle differentiation phenotype. Based on these results we hypothesize that NF-kappaB contributes to rhabdomyosarcoma by blocking terminal differentiation through deregulation of the NF-kappaB - YY1 - miR-29 circuit. To test this hypothesis, specific aims will 1) determine the relevance of the NF-kappaB classical versus alternative signaling pathway in rhabdomyosarcomagenesis, and 2) determine the requirement of NF-kappaB in the initiation and progression of alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. Results from these studies are likely to yield significant mechanistic insight into the role of NF-kappaB signaling in alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, which may prove useful for treatment of this lethal childhood cancer.

Public Health Relevance

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a common soft-tissue cancer in children and adolescents that in its advanced form produces an unfavorable outcome. The tumors are related to the skeletal muscle lineage, but lack the ability to undergo terminal differentiation. NF-kappaB is part of a signaling pathway that in immature muscle cells functions to inhibit differentiation. Since NF-kappaB is activated in rhabdomyosarcoma, this proposal will examine how NF-kappaB signals in these tumor cells and whether NF-kappaB activity is required for tumor development by acting as a negative regulator of the myogenic differentiation program.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
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Tumor Cell Biology Study Section (TCB)
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Yassin, Rihab R,
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Ohio State University
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Chen, Eleanor Y; DeRan, Michael T; Ignatius, Myron S et al. (2014) Glycogen synthase kinase 3 inhibitors induce the canonical WNT/?-catenin pathway to suppress growth and self-renewal in embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111:5349-54
Hettmer, Simone; Li, Zhizhong; Billin, Andrew N et al. (2014) Rhabdomyosarcoma: current challenges and their implications for developing therapies. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med 4:a025650
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Balkhi, M Y; Balkhi, Mumtaz Y; Iwenofu, O Hans et al. (2013) miR-29 acts as a decoy in sarcomas to protect the tumor suppressor A20 mRNA from degradation by HuR. Sci Signal 6:ra63