Background: The nerve growth factor (NGF) receptor tyrosine-kinase TrkA is a well-known determinant of the melanocytic lineage, through modulation of the MAPK and AKT cascades. While TrkA gene is frequently rearranged in cancers, its involvement in malignant melanoma (MM) development is still unclear.
Methods: We analyzed a dataset of primary cutaneous MM (n = 31) by array comparative genomic hybridization (aCGH), to identify genomic amplifications associated with tumor progression. The analysis was validated by genomic quantitative PCR (qPCR) on an extended set of cases (n = 64) and the results were correlated with the clinical outcome. To investigate TrkA molecular pathways and cellular function, we generated inducible activation of the NGF-TrkA signaling in human MM cell lines.
Results: We identified amplification of 1q23.1, where the TrkA locus resides, as a candidate hotspot implicated in the progression of MM. Across 40 amplicons detected, segmental amplification of 1q23.1 showed the strongest association with tumor thickness. By validation of the analysis, TrkA gene amplification emerged as a frequent event in primary melanomas (50 % of patients), and correlated with worse clinical outcome. However, experiments in cell lines revealed that induction of the NGF-TrkA signaling produced a phenotype of dramatic suppression of cell proliferation through inhibition of cell division and pronounced intracellular vacuolization, in a way straightly dependent on NGF activation of TrkA. These events were triggered via MAPK activity but not via AKT, and involved p21(cip1) protein increase, compatibly with a mechanism of oncogene-induced growth arrest.
Conclusions: Taken together, our findings point to TrkA as a candidate oncogene in MM and support a model in which the NGF-TrkA-MAPK pathway may mediate a trade-off between neoplastic transformation and adaptive anti-proliferative response.