Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is a developmental and cancer predisposing syndrome resulting from haploinsufficiency or alteration in neurofibromin, a multifunctional protein that acts in various signaling pathways affecting morphogenetic processes and cell proliferation. Neurofibromin deficiency deregulates Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK and Ras/PI3K/AKT/PKB/mTOR signaling networks and intersected pathways including the cAMP-dependent protein kinase A (PKA) and the Rho-cofillin which acts on actin cytoskeleton reorganization, cell motility and adhesion. As the neurofibromin-mediated pathways are associated with biological effects depending on the cell lineage, deregulation induced by NF1 mutation clearly has cell type-specific effects. This review summarizes our increasing knowledge of NF1 as a disease rooted in defective developmental mechanisms that can also influence the potential for malignant growth. The cardinal features of NF1 patients, at birth and during life involve the cardiovascular, connective/skeletal and central nervous systems, as they reflect the NF1 mutation sensitivity of cell lineages committed to specifying these systems during embryonic development. A switch to neoplastic transformation may also occur in both the prenatal and postnatal life in cancer initiating cells of defined lineages, with the cooperation of a genetically and epigenetically modified tumor microenvironment. We emphasize how much of our current knowledge of the pathomechanisms of NF1 clinical signs and cancer has come from engineered mouse models and in vitro primary cells and cell lines exposed to inhibitors of signaling molecules. Advances in our knowledge of the developmental defects primed by the loss neurofibromin should reveal further associations between given NF1 mutations and tissue-specific symptoms, thus improving the clinical management of the patients.
Keywords: Neurofibromatosis type 1, development, cancer, pathways
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