Genetics of Uveal Melanoma

Abstract

Uveal melanoma (UM) is the most common primary intraocular malignancy in adults and is associated with high rates of metastasis and death. Unlike many other solid cancers, UM harbours a relatively small number of conserved genetic alterations, which lead to oncogenesis and metastatic progression. Chromosomal alterations are largely restricted to chromosomes 1, 3, 6 and 8. Progression from melanocyte to nevus is characterised by acquisition of specific pathogenic genetic variants in either GNAQ or GNA11, followed by pathogenic genetic variants in either SF3B1/EIF1AX to form low metastatic risk UMs or in BAP1 to form high metastatic risk UMs. Gene expression profiling and multiplex ligation‐dependent probe amplification offer excellent prognostic accuracy regarding metastatic risk and mortality. Despite this extensive knowledge of UM genetics, the mechanisms by which these specific genetic variants lead to melanomagenesis and metastatic progression are only beginning to be understood and have yet to lead to the development of effective targeted therapies for metastatic UM.

Key Concepts

  • Primary uveal melanoma is characterised by a relatively small number of conserved genetic alterations that lead to oncogenesis and metastatic progression.
  • Melanocytes acquire initial pathogenic variants in either GNAQ or GNA11 to activate the ARF6‐Hippo‐YAP pathway and form a uveal melanocytic nevus, then in either SF3B1/EIF1AX or in BAP1 during the course of their subsequent progression to primary uveal melanoma.
  • Common chromosome derangements include gains and losses in chromosomes 1, 3, 6 and 8.
  • The most significant chromosomal derangement is complete or partial loss of chromosome 3, which leads to highly metastatic tumours.
  • Prognostic testing is highly accurate and currently relies on gene expression profiling (GEP) or multiplex ligand probe amplification (MLPA) to assess for microscopic chromosomal deletions. While clinical and pathologic features are incorporated into the prognostic algorithm for some of these techniques, these clinical features now play a relatively minor role compared to molecular phenotyping with GEP or MLPA.
  • Primary uveal melanoma tumours generally fall into two prognostic classes: GEP class 1 tumours have a low (0–21% 5‐year) risk of metastatic progression, are associated with disomy of chromosome 3, gain of chromosome 6p, presence of mutations in SF3B1 or EIF1AX, and no loss of BAP1. GEP class 2 tumours have a high (72% 5‐year) risk of metastatic progression, are associated with monosomy of chromosome 3, loss of chromosome 1p or 8q, and loss of BAP1.

Keywords: uveal melanoma; genetics; epigenetics; prognostic testing; gene expression profile (GEP); multiplex ligation‐dependent probe amplification (MLPA); GNAQ; GNA11; BAP1; SF3B1; EIF1AX; monosomy 3

Figure 1. GNAQ/11 cellular pathway in the oncogenesis of uveal melanoma. GNAQ and GNA11 (GNAQ/11) are proteins that belong to a subfamily of G‐protein‐related alpha subunits. By far, the most common pathogenic variant observed is an inactivating mutation within the GTPase catalytic domain at codon 209 (Q209) in exon 5. An inactivating mutation at this site prevents the hydrolysis of GTP associated with the larger G‐protein complex. As a result, the protein complex cannot release a phosphate group from GTP and is locked in its active conformation. Consequently, many downstream pathways are constitutively activated, including the RHO/ROCK pathway, which then eventually leads to constitutive activation of YAP/TAZ through dephosphorylation. The dephosphorylated YAP protein is now able to localise into the nucleus where it binds TEAD and leads to transcriptional activation of cell cycle genes.
Figure 2. BAP1 tumour suppressor cellular pathways.BAP1 gene is located on chromosome 3p21 and has several important protein binding domains, including BARD1, BRCA1, HCFC1, YY1 and ASXL1. Pathogenic variants in any of these domains may result in reduced tumour suppressor activity (a–c). There is also a bipartite nuclear localising signal (NLS), which if may also be a target for pathogenic variants, leading to inability of BAP1 protein product to localise to the nucleus where it exhibits its tumour suppressor activity (d). (a) Role of BAP1 in chromatin activation and transcription regulation. BAP1 has two major binding partners in HCFC1 and YY1, which are involved in promoting normal upregulation of gene expression. A pathogenic variant in either the HCFC1 or YY1 domain of BAP1 may lead to aberrant transcription factor regulation. (b) Role of BAP1 in chromatin regulation. In normal cellular function, ubiquitination and deubiquitination of histone complexes is balanced. This balance is needed to appropriately turn on and off expression of various genes responsible for normal cellular function. BAP1 contains a binding site for ASXL1, which leads to deubiquitination of chromatin histone complexes, leading to subsequent chromatin opening and increased accessibility of cell function genes. A mutation in this binding domain may alter the balance of chromatin suppression and activation. (c) Role of BAP1 in double‐stranded DNA repair. BRCA1 and BARD1 are other binding partners of BAP1 that have important roles in repairing double‐stranded DNA breaks. Pathogenic variants in BAP1 that prevent complexes from forming with target binding partners may therefore inhibit double‐stranded DNA repair. (d) BAP1 localises to the nucleus via NLS. Pathogenic variants in the bipartite NLS may prevent the BAP1 protein from appropriately localising to the nucleus, thus affecting transcription of BAP1 downstream target genes.
Figure 3. Uveal melanoma genetic pathway. Genetic development of primary uveal melanoma starts with a uveal melanocyte acquiring a mutation in either GNAQ or GNA11, which appears to be a critical step in initial nevogenesis. In forming a uveal melanoma, the nevus appears to embark on one of two mutually exclusive fates. For some tumours, there is chromosome 3 loss (monosomy 3) with loss of BAP1, leading to a high metastatic risk melanoma with a class 2 gene expression profile (GEP). Alternatively, tumours may remain with disomoy 3 and no BAP1 mutation, and instead acquire a mutation in either SF3B1 or EIF1AX, leading to a low metastatic risk, GEP class 1 tumour. After the initial fate‐determining class 1/class 2 step, tumours may acquire subsequent chromosomal derangements, especially in chromosomes 1, 6 and 8, which are independent modifiers of metastatic risk.
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Milam Jr, Ronald W, and Daniels, Anthony B(Jan 2018) Genetics of Uveal Melanoma. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0027245]