Deregulation of RAS signaling in Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) results in the development of multiple neurofibromas, complex tumor of the peripheral nerves with no effective medical treatment. There is increasing evidences that neurofibroma initiates through loss of NF1 function in the Schwann cell lineage, followed by a cascade of interactions with other cell types in the surrounding tumor microenvironment. In NF1 patients, neurofibromas always develop along peripheral nerves and do not migrate to distant organs, including the central nervous system. In this study, we sought to identify the contributions of these peripheral nerves in neurofibroma formation. Using in vivo and in vitro three-dimensional (3D) culturing system, we show that peripheral nerves are absolutely required for neurofibroma tumorigenesis and report a novel 3D skin raft culture system for neurofibroma formation in vitro to decipher tumor pathogenesis. This interaction between neoplastic Schwann cells and their surrounding neural microenvironment has important implications for understanding early cellular events that dictate tumorigenesis. It also provides fertile ground for the elucidation of intrinsic and extrinsic factors within the nerve microenvironment that likely play essential roles in neurofibroma development and, therefore, viable therapeutic targets in neurofibroma therapy.
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