To define alterations early in tumor formation, we studied nerve tumors in neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1), a tumor predisposition syndrome. Affected individuals develop neurofibromas, benign tumors driven by NF1 loss in Schwann cells (SCs). By comparing normal nerve cells to plexiform neurofibroma (PN) cells using single-cell and bulk RNA sequencing, we identified changes in 5 SC populations, including a de novo SC progenitor–like (SCP-like) population. Long after Nf1 loss, SC populations developed PN-specific expression of Dcn, Postn, and Cd74, with sustained expression of the injury response gene Postn and showed dramatic expansion of immune and stromal cell populations; in corresponding human PNs, the immune and stromal cells comprised 90% of cells. Comparisons between injury-related and tumor monocytes/macrophages support early monocyte recruitment and aberrant macrophage differentiation. Cross-species analysis verified each SC population and unique conserved patterns of predicted cell-cell communication in each SC population. This analysis identified PROS1-AXL, FGF-FGFR, and MIF-CD74 and its effector pathway NF-κB as deregulated in NF1 SC populations, including SCP-like cells predicted to influence other types of SCs, stromal cells, and/or immune cells in mouse and human. These findings highlight remarkable changes in multiple types of SCs and identify therapeutic targets for PN.
Leah J. Kershner, Kwangmin Choi, Jianqiang Wu, Xiyuan Zhang, Melissa Perrino, Nathan Salomonis, Jack F. Shern, Nancy Ratner