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DHODH modulates transcriptional elongation in the neural crest and melanoma.

Melanoma is a tumour of transformed melanocytes, which are originally derived from the embryonic neural crest. It is unknown to what extent the programs that regulate neural crest development interact with mutations in the BRAF oncogene, which is the most commonly mutated gene in human melanoma. We have used zebrafish embryos to identify the initiating transcriptional events that occur on activation of human BRAF(V600E) (which encodes an amino acid substitution mutant of BRAF) in the neural crest lineage. Zebrafish embryos that are transgenic for mitfa:BRAF(V600E) and lack p53 (also known as tp53) have a gene signature that is enriched for markers of multipotent neural crest cells, and neural crest progenitors from these embryos fail to terminally differentiate. To determine whether these early transcriptional events are important for melanoma pathogenesis, we performed a chemical genetic screen to identify small-molecule suppressors of the neural crest lineage, which were then tested for their effects on melanoma. One class of compound, inhibitors of dihydroorotate dehydrogenase (DHODH), for example leflunomide, led to an almost complete abrogation of neural crest development in zebrafish and to a reduction in the self-renewal of mammalian neural crest stem cells. Leflunomide exerts these effects by inhibiting the transcriptional elongation of genes that are required for neural crest development and melanoma growth. When used alone or in combination with a specific inhibitor of the BRAF(V600E) oncogene, DHODH inhibition led to a marked decrease in melanoma growth both in vitro and in mouse xenograft studies. Taken together, these studies highlight developmental pathways in neural crest cells that have a direct bearing on melanoma formation.

Pubmed ID: 21430780


  • White RM
  • Cech J
  • Ratanasirintrawoot S
  • Lin CY
  • Rahl PB
  • Burke CJ
  • Langdon E
  • Tomlinson ML
  • Mosher J
  • Kaufman C
  • Chen F
  • Long HK
  • Kramer M
  • Datta S
  • Neuberg D
  • Granter S
  • Young RA
  • Morrison S
  • Wheeler GN
  • Zon LI



Publication Data

March 24, 2011

Associated Grants

  • Agency: NIAMS NIH HHS, Id: K08 AR055368
  • Agency: NCI NIH HHS, Id: R01 CA103846
  • Agency: NHGRI NIH HHS, Id: R01 HG002668
  • Agency: NHGRI NIH HHS, Id: R01 HG002668-08
  • Agency: NCI NIH HHS, Id: T32 CA009172
  • Agency: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Id:
  • Agency: Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Id:
  • Agency: Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Id:

Mesh Terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Lineage
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Genes, p53
  • Humans
  • Isoxazoles
  • Melanoma
  • Mice
  • Neural Crest
  • Oxidoreductases Acting on CH-CH Group Donors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf
  • Rats
  • Stem Cells
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays
  • Zebrafish