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Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol. 2019 Jul;8(4):e342. doi: 10.1002/wdev.342. Epub 2019 Apr 3.

Developmental origins and oncogenic pathways in malignant brain tumors.

Lu QR1,2, Qian L1,2, Zhou X3,4.

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Brain Tumor Center, Division of Experimental Hematology and Cancer Biology, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Key Laboratory of Birth Defects and Related Diseases of Women and Children of Ministry of Education, Sichuan University, Chengdu, China.
Department of Pediatrics, West China Second University Hospital, Sichuan University, Chengdu, China.


Brain tumors such as adult glioblastomas and pediatric high-grade gliomas or medulloblastomas are among the leading causes of cancer-related deaths, exhibiting poor prognoses with little improvement in outcomes in the past several decades. These tumors are heterogeneous and can be initiated from various neural cell types, contributing to therapy resistance. How such heterogeneity arises is linked to the tumor cell of origin and their genetic alterations. Brain tumorigenesis and progression recapitulate key features associated with normal neurogenesis; however, the underlying mechanisms are quite dysregulated as tumor cells grow and divide in an uncontrolled manner. Recent comprehensive genomic, transcriptomic, and epigenomic studies at single-cell resolution have shed new light onto diverse tumor-driving events, cellular heterogeneity, and cells of origin in different brain tumors. Primary and secondary glioblastomas develop through different genetic alterations and pathways, such as EGFR amplification and IDH1/2 or TP53 mutation, respectively. Mutations such as histone H3K27M impacting epigenetic modifications define a distinct group of pediatric high-grade gliomas such as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. The identification of distinct genetic, epigenomic profiles and cellular heterogeneity has led to new classifications of adult and pediatric brain tumor subtypes, affording insights into molecular and lineage-specific vulnerabilities for treatment stratification. This review discusses our current understanding of tumor cells of origin, heterogeneity, recurring genetic and epigenetic alterations, oncogenic drivers and signaling pathways for adult glioblastomas, pediatric high-grade gliomas, and medulloblastomas, the genetically heterogeneous groups of malignant brain tumors. This article is categorized under: Gene Expression and Transcriptional Hierarchies > Gene Networks and Genomics Adult Stem Cells, Tissue Renewal, and Regeneration > Stem Cell Differentiation and Reversion Signaling Pathways > Cell Fate Signaling.


epigenetic regulation; glial progenitor cells; glioma; medulloblastoma; neural stem cells; oligodendrocyte progenitors; oncogenic signaling network; tumor suppressors

[Available on 2020-07-01]

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