Human neuroblastoma tumor cell lines correspond to the arrested differentiation of chromaffin adrenal medullary neuroblasts.

M. J. Cooper, G. M. Hutchins, P. S. Cohen, L. J. Helman, R. J. Mennie, M. A. Israel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


We have examined the hypothesis that nonhematopoietic malignancies may contain cells corresponding to those which occur during the differentiation of tissue precursors. Neuroblastoma, an embryonal tumor of the adrenal medulla, was studied because of its well described ability to differentiate both in vivo and in vitro. We examined the expression of four genes during development of the human adrenal medulla: tyrosine hydroxylase, chromagranin A, pG2, and beta-2-microglobulin. The sequential expression of these genes by adrenal neuroblasts marks successive stages during maturation of the chromaffin lineage. We also observed a population of neuroblasts during adrenal medullary development that did not express any of these four genes, suggestive of adrenal medullary cells differentiating along nonchromaffin lineage(s). We then evaluated 27 neuroblastoma cell lines for the expression of these genes and found that 24 expressed chromaffin markers, with 19 of these mimicking the pattern of gene expression found during development. Three cell lines did not express tyrosine hydroxylase, chromogranin A, or pG2, consistent with either a very undifferentiated neural crest cell or maturation along a nonchromaffin lineage. These data indicate that neuroblastoma tumor cells correspond to adrenal neuroblasts arrested during morphogenesis of the adrenal medulla and raise the possibility that malignant transformation of cells at different stages of tissue maturation may contribute to the diversity that characterizes tumors of solid tissues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-159
Number of pages11
JournalCell growth & differentiation : the molecular biology journal of the American Association for Cancer Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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