A large number of poor prognosis neuroblastoma (NB) tumors constitutively express brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and variably express the gene for its tyrosine kinase (Trk) receptor TrkB. Good prognosis NB tumors typically express high levels of TrkA mRNA, which encodes the signal transducing receptor for nerve growth factor, p140TrkA. These neurotrophins are necessary for neural cell survival and differentiation. This study evaluates the effects of activation of the BDNF-TrkB signal transduction pathway on the growth, survival, morphology, and invasive capacity of NB cells. We find that the addition of BDNF to SY5Y cells induced to express p145TrkB by retinoic acid treatment does not significantly affect cell proliferation yet will support cell survival. Activation of the BDNF-TrkB signal transduction pathway stimulates disaggregation of cells and extension of neuritic processes which can be blocked by a BDNF-neutralizing antibody. Treatment of cells with K252a, an inhibitor of Trk, reverses the cellular disaggregation. An evaluation of the effects of BDNF and nerve growth factor on the ability of NB cells to penetrate basement membrane proteins indicated that BDNF stimulated a 2-fold increase while nerve growth factor inhibited RA-SY5Y cell invasion. Thus, activation of the p145TrkB signal transduction pathway stimulates NB cell survival, disaggregation, and invasion; all characteristics of metastatic cells. Furthermore, these studies indicate that activation of different Trk signal transduction pathways in NB cells results in distinct differences in tumor cell biology and these may be relevant to the clinical course of the patients.

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This research was sponsored in part by the National Cancer Institute, NIH, Department of Health and Human Services, under Contract N01-CO-74101 with ABL (D. R. K.), an NIH First Award (R. K. W.), and a grant from the Concern II Foundation (R. K. W.).

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