Loss of the neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2) gene-encoded protein merlin is a universal finding in sporadic and NF2-associated schwannomas. Certain NF2 patients may develop numerous minute Schwann cell tumorlets of the spinal nerve roots in addition to larger, frank schwannomas and thereby provide an opportunity to investigate the timing of NF2 gene/merlin loss in Schwann cell tumorigenesis. We studied an NF2 patient with a germline NF2 gene frameshift mutation who had many Schwann cell tumorlets and schwannomas. Loss of heterozygosity studies of DNA from microdissected specimens showed allelic loss of the NF2 region of chromosome 22q in tumorlets as well as schwannomas. Immunohistochemistry further demonstrated loss of merlin expression in tumorlets as well as schwannomas, with intact expression in adjacent nerve. Thus, loss of both NF2 alleles and merlin occur early in Schwann cell tumorigenesis, before the tumorlet stage. The study of tumorlets and schwannomas in such patients may also provide an opportunity to elucidate mechanisms responsible for the subsequent growth of Schwann cell lesions into symptomatic tumors.

Author notes

Supported by NIH grants NS24279 and CA51410.