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Ian F. Pollack, Sameer Agnihotri and Alberto Broniscer

Brain tumors are the most common solid tumors in children, and, unfortunately, many subtypes continue to have a suboptimal long-term outcome. During the last several years, however, remarkable advances in our understanding of the molecular underpinnings of these tumors have occurred as a result of high-resolution genomic, epigenetic, and transcriptomic profiling, which have provided insights for improved tumor categorization and molecularly directed therapies. While tumors such as medulloblastomas have been historically grouped into standard- and high-risk categories, it is now recognized that these tumors encompass four or more molecular subsets with distinct clinical and molecular characteristics. Likewise, high-grade glioma, which for decades was considered a single high-risk entity, is now known to comprise multiple subsets of tumors that differ in terms of patient age, tumor location, and prognosis. The situation is even more complex for ependymoma, for which at least nine subsets of tumors have been described. Conversely, the majority of pilocytic astrocytomas appear to result from genetic changes that alter a single, therapeutically targetable molecular pathway. Accordingly, the present era is one in which treatment is evolving from the historical standard of radiation and conventional chemotherapy to a more nuanced approach in which these modalities are applied in a risk-adapted framework and molecularly targeted therapies are implemented to augment or, in some cases, replace conventional therapy. Herein, the authors review advances in the categorization and treatment of several of the more common pediatric brain tumors and discuss current and future directions in tumor management that hold significant promise for patients with these challenging tumors.

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Sameer Agnihotri, Kenneth D. Aldape and Gelareh Zadeh

Diffuse gliomas and secondary glioblastomas (GBMs) that develop from low-grade gliomas are a common and incurable class of brain tumor. Mutations in the metabolic enzyme glioblastomas (IDH1) represent a distinguishing feature of low-grade gliomas and secondary GBMs. IDH1 mutations are one of the most common and earliest detectable genetic alterations in low-grade diffuse gliomas, and evidence supports this mutation as a driver of gliomagenesis. Here, the authors highlight the biological consequences of IDH1 mutations in gliomas, the clinical and therapeutic/diagnostic implications, and the molecular subtypes of these tumors. They also explore, in brief, the non-IDH1–mutated gliomas, including primary GBMs, and the molecular subtypes and drivers of these tumors. A fundamental understanding of the diversity of GBMs and lower-grade gliomas will ultimately allow for more effective treatments and predictors of survival.

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Sameer Agnihotri, Isabel Gugel, Marc Remke, Antje Bornemann, Georgios Pantazis, Stephen C. Mack, David Shih, Sanjay K. Singh, Nesrin Sabha, Michael D. Taylor, Marcos Tatagiba, Gelareh Zadeh and Boris Krischek

Object

Vestibular schwannomas (VS) are common benign tumors of the vestibular nerve that cause significant morbidity. The current treatment strategies for VS include surgery or radiation, with each treatment option having associated complications and side effects. The transcriptional landscape of schwannoma remains largely unknown.

Methods

In this study the authors performed gene-expression profiling of 49 schwannomas and 7 normal control vestibular nerves to identify tumor-specific gene-expression patterns. They also interrogated whether schwannomas comprise several molecular subtypes using several transcription-based clustering strategies. The authors also performed in vitro experiments testing therapeutic inhibitors of over-activated pathways in a schwannoma cell line, namely the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway.

Results

The authors identified over 4000 differentially expressed genes between controls and schwannomas with network analysis, uncovering proliferation and anti-apoptotic pathways previously not implicated in VS. Furthermore, using several distinct clustering technologies, they could not reproducibly identify distinct VS subtypes or significant differences between sporadic and germline NF2–associated schwannomas, suggesting that they are highly similar entities. The authors identified overexpression of PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling networks in their geneexpression study and evaluated this pathway for therapeutic targeting. Testing the compounds BEZ235 and PKI-587, both novel dual inhibitors of PI3K and mTOR, attenuated tumor growth in a preclinical cell line model of schwannoma (HEI-293). In vitro findings demonstrated that pharmacological inhibition of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway with next-generation compounds led to decreased cell viability and increased cell death.

Conclusions

These findings implicate aberrant activation of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway as a molecular mechanism of pathogenesis in VS and suggest inhibition of this pathway as a potential treatment strategy.