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Active Receptor Tyrosine Kinases, but not Brachyury, are sufficient to trigger chordoma in zebrafish

By Gianluca D‘Agati, Elena María Cabello, Karl Frontzek, Elisabeth J. Rushing, Robin Klemm, Mark D Robinson, Richard M White, Christian Mosimann, Alexa Burger

Posted 29 Nov 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/482687 (published DOI: 10.1242/dmm.039545)

The aberrant activation of developmental processes triggers diverse cancer types. Chordoma is a rare, aggressive tumor arising from transformed notochord remnants. Several potentially oncogenic factors, including several receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) genes, have been found deregulated in chordoma, yet causation remains uncertain. In particular, sustained expression of the developmental notochord transcription factor Brachyury is hypothesized as key driver of chordoma; nonetheless, experimental evidence for an oncogenic role of Brachyury in chordoma and its prognostic impact remains missing. Here, we developed and applied a zebrafish chordoma model to identify the notochord-transforming potential of implicated genes in vivo. We find that Brachyury, including a form with augmented transcriptional activity, is insufficient to initiate notochord hyperplasia. In contrast, the chordoma-implicated RTKs EGFR and KDR/VEGFR2 are sufficient to transform notochord cells within two to five days of development. Transcriptome and structural analysis of transformed notochords revealed that the aberrant activation of RTK/Ras signaling attenuates processes required for notochord differentiation, including of the unfolded protein response. Our results provide first in vivo indication against a tumor-initiating potential of Brachyury in the notochord, and imply activated RTK signaling as possibly initiating event in chordoma. These results provide a mechanistic framework for the pursuit of chemotherapeutic compounds to combat this aggressive tumor type.

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