Glioblastomas of children and young adults (pGBM) have a median survival of only 12-15 months and are clinically and biologically distinct from histologically similar cancers in older adults. They are defined by highly specific mutations in the gene encoding the histone H3.3 variant H3F3A, occurring either at or close to key residues marked by methylation for regulation of transcription - K27 and G34. The G34 mutation is specific to tumours of the cerebral hemispheres and is associated with a distinct age of incidence (16 yrs) and gene expression signature compared to K27 and wild-type tumours. ChIP-Seq for the activating K36 trimethylation mark (H3K36me3) mark of G34V mutant KNS42 pGBM cells identified 156 genes differentially bound and expressed compared to wild-type pGBM control. The transcriptional program induced recapitulates that of the developing forebrain, and involves numerous markers of stem cell maintenance, cell fate decisions and self-renewal. Critically, H3F3A G34 mutations cause profound upregulation of MYCN, a potent oncogene which is causative of glioblastomas when expressed in the correct developmental context. A synthetic lethality siRNA screen revealed this driving aberration to be selectively targetable in this patient population by inhibiting kinases responsible for stabilisation of the protein such as AURKA and CHK1. We thus provide the mechanistic explanation for how the first histone gene mutation in human disease biology acts to deliver MYCN, a potent tumorigenic initiator, into a stem cell compartment of the developing forebrain, selectively giving rise to incurable cerebral hemispheric glioblastoma. Employing synthetic lethal approaches to these mutant tumour cells provides a rational way to develop novel and highly selective treatment strategies.

Citation Format: Lynn Bjerke, Alan Mackay, Meera Nandhabalan, Anna Burford, Alexa Jury, Sergey Popov, Dorine Bax, Diana Carvalho, Katy Taylor, Mara Vinci, Illirjana Bajrami, Imelda McGonnell, Chris Lord, Rui Reis, Darren Hargrave, Alan Ashworth, Paul Workman, Chris Jones. Histone H3.3 mutations drive paediatric glioblastoma through upregulation of MYCN. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 104th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2013 Apr 6-10; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2013;73(8 Suppl):Abstract nr 2962. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2013-2962

Note: This abstract was not presented at the AACR Annual Meeting 2013 because the presenter was unable to attend.