Defining pathological activities of ALK in neuroblastoma, a neural crest-derived cancer

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Neuroblastoma is a common extracranial solid tumour of childhood, responsible for 15% of cancer-related deaths in children. Prognoses vary from spontaneous remission to aggressive disease with extensive metastases, where treatment is challenging. Tumours are thought to arise from sympathoadrenal progenitor cells, which derive from an embryonic cell population called neural crest cells that give rise to diverse cell types, such as facial bone and cartilage, pigmented cells, and neurons. Tumours are found associated with mature derivatives of neural crest, such as the adrenal medulla or paraspinal ganglia. Sympathoadrenal progenitor cells express anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK), which encodes a tyrosine kinase receptor that is the most frequently mutated gene in neuroblastoma. Activating mutations in the kinase domain are common in both sporadic and familial cases. The oncogenic role of ALK has been extensively studied, but little is known about its physiological role. Recent studies have implicated ALK in neural crest migration and sympathetic neurogenesis. However, very few downstream targets of ALK have been identified. Here, we describe pathological activation of ALK in the neural crest, which promotes proliferation and migration, while preventing differentiation, thus inducing the onset of neuroblastoma. Understanding the effects of ALK activity on neural crest cells will help find new targets for neuroblastoma treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11718
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number21
Early online date29 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


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