Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) comprise a group of rare tumors derived from the diffuse neuroendocrine system or islet endocrine cells of the pancreas. The molecular mechanisms underlying NETs are largely unknown. The tumor suppressor p53 plays a critical role in maintaining genomic stability and tumor prevention. The p53 pathway is tightly regulated by a number of proteins, among which MDM2, MDM4, and WIP1 are key negative regulators of p53 protein levels or activity. Aberrant activation of these negative regulators can attenuate the p53 function that serves as an important mechanism of tumorigenesis. In this study, several genetic alterations in pancreatic NETs were studied. These tumors exhibit various chromosomal aberrations throughout the whole genome as examined by array-based comparative genomic hybridization. Although p53 mutations are rare in NETs (<3%), this study presents evidence that the p53 pathway is altered in pancreatic NETs through aberrant activation of its negative regulators. A high percentage of pancreatic NETs contain extra gene copies of MDM2 (22%), MDM4 (30%), and WIP1 (51%), which are correlated with expression of corresponding mRNAs and proteins. In addition, there is a higher frequency (23% v. 15% in the control population) of the G/G genotype of MDM2 SNP309, a functional single-nucleotide polymorphism in the MDM2 gene that attenuates the function of the p53 protein. Overall, approximately 70% of pancreatic NETs have one or more of these genetic changes. These findings suggest that the negative regulation of p53 function could be an important echanism for the initiation and/or progression of pancreatic NETs, and reactivation of p53 could be a potential therapeutic strategy for patients with this disease.
- Neuroendocrine tumor