Cancer cells often express differentiation programs unrelated to their tissue of origin, although the contribution of these aberrant phenotypes to malignancy is poorly understood. An aggressive subgroup of medulloblastoma, a malignant pediatric brain tumor of the cerebellum, expresses a photoreceptor differentiation program normally expressed in the retina. We establish that two photoreceptor-specific transcription factors, NRL and CRX, are master regulators of this program and are required for tumor maintenance in this subgroup. Beyond photoreceptor lineage genes, we identify BCL-XL as a key transcriptional target of NRL and provide evidence substantiating anti-BCL therapy as a rational treatment opportunity for select MB patients. Our results highlight the utility of studying aberrant differentiation programs in cancer and their potential as selective therapeutic vulnerabilities.
Keywords: BCL2; CRX; MAF; NRL; apoptosis; medulloblastoma; photoreceptor; retina.
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