A Mutation in Alk6b Causes Impaired Germ Cell Differentation and Testicular Germ Cell Tumors in Zebrafish




Neumann, Joanie

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Content Notes


Germ cell tumors (GCTs) affect infants, children and young adults and are increasing in incidence worldwide. GCTs arise from pluripotent germ cells and can exhibit differentiated and undifferentiated histologies, which vary in their malignant potential and response to treatment. The pathways that determine tumor cell differentiation are not known, impeding the development of new therapies. Thus, the treatment of GCTs has remained static since the introduction 30 years ago of cisplatin which, while effective, causes severe side effects including hearing loss, infertility and kidney damage.
We identified a zebrafish mutant line with a high incidence of GCT during a forward genetic screen to identify cancer susceptibility loci. Homozygous adult males develop tumors consisting of undifferentiated spermatogonia by 4 months of age while heterozygous males develop tumors around 7 to 9 months of age. We used interval haplotype analysis and high-resolution recombinational mapping to localize the mutation to a 0.82 cM interval on zebrafish chromosome 10. We identified a premature termination codon in Alk6b (Activin Receptor-like Kinase 6b) in the mutant animals. Alk6b is a member of the TGF-beta/BMP superfamily of receptors. BMP signaling has diverse roles including regulation of cell proliferation, differentiation, embryonic development, germ cell specification and gonadogenesis. Misregulation of the BMP signaling pathway has been implicated in various human cancers. In agreement with a critical role for Alk6b in controlling germ cell differentiation, we find evidence of impaired BMP signal transduction in the zebrafish GCTs, as well as evidence of alterations in the expression level of BMP target genes. We have also examined BMP signaling in a series of 40 clinically-annotated human GCTs of diverse histologic subtypes. In agreement with the predictions made from our zebrafish model, we find that undifferentiated GCTs such as dysgerminomas lack BMP signaling activity, whereas signaling is maintained in the differentiated subtype of Yolk Sac Tumors. These results confirm the relevance of the zebrafish model for understanding germ cell tumorigenesis, and will foster the development of improved, targeted therapy of human GCTs.

General Notes

Table of Contents


Related URI