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J Neurosci. 2002 Feb 1;22(3):815-24.

N-myc promotes survival and induces S-phase entry of postmitotic sympathetic neurons.

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Brain Tumor Research Center and Center for Neuronal Survival, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 2B4.


In most postmitotic neurons, expression or activation of proteins that stimulate cell cycle progression or DNA replication results in apoptosis. One potential exception to this generalization is neuroblastoma (NB), a tumor derived from the sympathoadrenal lineage. NBs often express high levels of N-myc, a proto-oncogene that can potently activate key components of the cell cycle machinery. Here, we show that in postmitotic sympathetic neurons, N-myc can induce S-phase entry while protecting neurons from death caused by aberrant cell cycle reentry. Specifically, these experiments demonstrate that expression of N-myc at levels similar to those in NBs caused sympathetic neurons to reenter S-phase, as monitored by 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine incorporation and expression of cell cycle regulatory proteins, and rescued them from apoptosis induced by withdrawal of their obligate survival factor, nerve growth factor. The N-myc-induced cell cycle entry, but not enhanced survival, was inhibited by coexpression of a constitutively hypophosphorylated form of the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein, suggesting that these two effects of N-myc are mediated by separate pathways. In contrast, N-myc did not cause S-phase entry in postmitotic cortical neurons. Thus, N-myc both selectively causes sympathetic neurons to reenter the cell cycle and protects them from apoptosis, potentially contributing to their transformation to NBs.

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