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Am J Pathol. 1999 Dec;155(6):1879-84.

Malignant transformation of neurofibromas in neurofibromatosis 1 is associated with CDKN2A/p16 inactivation.

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  • 1Molecular Neuro-Oncology Laboratory and the James Homer Wright Pathology Laboratories, Department of Pathology and Neurosurgical Service, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA. gnielsen@partners.org


Patients with neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1) are predisposed to develop multiple neurofibromas (NFs) and are at risk for transformation of NFs to malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNSTs). Little is known, however, about the biological events involved in the malignant transformation of NFs. We examined the CDKN2A/p16 gene and p16 protein in NFs and MPNSTs from patients with NF1. On immunohistochemical analysis, all NFs expressed p16 protein. The MPNSTs, however, were essentially immunonegative for p16, with striking transitions in cases that contained both benign and malignant elements. None of the benign tumors had CDKN2A/p16 deletions, whereas three of six MPNSTs appeared to have homozygous CDKN2A/p16 deletions. Methylation analysis and mutation analysis of CDKN2A/p16 in MPNSTs did not reveal any abnormalities. These results show that malignant transformation of NF is associated with loss of p16 expression, which is often secondary to homozygous deletion of the CDKN2A/p16 gene. The findings suggest that CDKN2A/p16 inactivation occurs during the malignant transformation of NFs in NF1 patients and raises the possibility that p16 immunohistochemistry may provide ancillary information in the distinction of NF from MPNST.

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