- (1) Karolinska Institute, grid.4714.6
- (2) Danish Cancer Society, grid.417390.8
- (3) Rigshospitalet, grid.475435.4, Capital Region
- (4) Karolinska University Hospital, grid.24381.3c
Medulloblastomas are the most common, and often fatal, paediatric brain tumours that feature high genomic instability, frequent infection by human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) and resistance to radiation and chemotherapy. The causes of the pronounced chromosomal instability and its potential links with HCMV infection and/or resistance to genotoxic therapies remain largely unknown. To address these issues, here we have combined immunohistochemical analysis of a series of 25 paediatric medulloblastomas, complemented by medulloblastoma cell culture models including experimental HCMV infection. Using eight established immunohistochemical markers to assess the status of the DDR machinery, we found pronounced endogenous DNA damage signalling (γH2AX marker) and robust constitutive activation of both the ATM-Chk2 and ATR-Chk1 DNA damage checkpoint kinase cascades, yet unexpectedly modest p53 tumour suppressor activation, across our medulloblastoma cohort. Most tumours showed high proliferation (Ki67 marker), variable oxidative DNA damage (8-oxoguanine lesions) and formation of 53BP1 nuclear 'bodies', the latter indicating (along with ATR-Chk1 signalling) endogenous replication stress. The bulk of the clinical specimens also showed expression of HCMV immediate early and late proteins, in comparative analyses using three immunohistochemical protocols. Cell culture experiments validated the chronic endogenous replication stress in medulloblastoma cell lines and showed sharply differential, intriguing responses of normal cells and medulloblastoma cells to HCMV infection, including differential subcellular mislocalization and enhancement of replication stress-related 53BP1 body formation, the latter in cell-non-autonomous manner. Overall, our results strongly indicate that in human medulloblastomas, the DDR checkpoint barrier is widely activated, at least in part due to replication stress. Furthermore, we propose that unorthodox p53 defects other than mutations may allow high proliferation despite the ongoing checkpoint signalling and that the highly prevalent HCMV may impact the medulloblastoma host cell replication stress and DNA repair. Collectively, the scenario we report here likely fuels genomic instability and evolution of medulloblastoma resistance to standard-of-care genotoxic treatments.