Neuroblastoma is a neural crest-derived paediatric cancer that is the most common and deadly solid extracranial tumour of childhood. It arises when neural crest cells fail to follow their differentiation program to give rise to cells of the sympathoadrenal lineage. These undifferentiated cells can proliferate and migrate, forming tumours mostly found associated with the adrenal glands. Activating mutations in the kinase domain of anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) are linked to high-risk cases, where extensive therapy is ineffective. However, the role of ALK in embryonic development, downstream signal transduction and in metastatic transformation of the neural crest is poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate high conservation of the ALK protein sequences among vertebrates. We then examine alk mRNA expression in the frog models Xenopus laevis and Xenopus tropicalis. Using in situ hybridisation of Xenopus embryos, we show that alk is expressed in neural crest domains throughout development, suggesting a possible role in neuroblastoma initiation. Lastly, RT-qPCR analyses show high levels of alk expression at tadpole stages. Collectively, these data may begin to elucidate how alk functions in neural crest cells and how its deregulation can result in tumorigenesis.
- anaplastic lymphoma kinase
- neural crest