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J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2005 Oct;64(10):891-901.

Altered expression of immune defense genes in pilocytic astrocytomas.

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  • 1International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France, and Department of Neurosurgery, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.


Pilocytic astrocytoma (WHO grade I) is a circumscribed, slowly growing, benign astrocytoma that most frequently develops in the cerebellar hemispheres and in midline structures and occurs predominantly in childhood and adolescence. In contrast to diffusely infiltrating gliomas in adults (e.g. grade II astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas), survival of patients with pilocytic astrocytoma is excellent after surgical intervention. To search for potential molecular mechanisms underlying its benign biologic behavior, we compared gene expression profiles of pilocytic astrocytomas (8 cases) with those of normal cerebellum (4 cases), low-grade astrocytomas (WHO grade II; 15 cases), and oligodendrogliomas (WHO grade II; 17 cases) by cDNA array analysis. A number of immune system-related genes such as HLA-DRalpha, HLA-DPB1, HLA-DQB1, IgG3, IgGK, FCER1G, A2M, FCRN, IFI-56K, and DAP12 were upregulated in pilocytic astrocytomas relative to normal cerebellum, grade II astrocytomas, and oligodendrogliomas. Genes expressed at higher levels in pilocytic astrocytomas than in grade II astrocytomas and oligodendrogliomas include HLA-DRalpha, HLA-DPA1, HLA-DPB1, HLA-DQB1, A2M, TIMP1, TIMP2, CDKN1A, and SOCS3 and those expressed at lower levels include EGFR and PDGFRA. Hierarchical clustering analysis using the entire set of 1176 genes distinguished pilocytic astrocytomas from grade II astrocytomas and oligodendrogliomas. Clustering analysis using selected subgroups of genes based on their molecular functions revealed that immune system-related genes (75 genes) or cell adhesion, migration, and angiogenesis-related genes (69 genes) showed similar power to the entire gene set for separation of pilocytic astrocytomas from diffusely infiltrating low-grade gliomas. Immunohistochemistry revealed that HLA-DRalpha is expressed diffusely in neoplastic cells in pilocytic astrocytomas, whereas in oligodendrogliomas, expression was limited to scattered reactive astrocytes. These results suggest that gene expression profiles of pilocytic astrocytomas differ significantly from those of diffusely infiltrating low-grade gliomas and that their benign biologic behavior may be related to upregulation of immune defense-associated genes.

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