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Transgenic zebrafish carrying the human oncogene BRAF(V600E), the most common mutation in melanoma patients, provide a convenient model for melanoma. Two papers from Leonard Zon and colleagues demonstrate the potential of this system in the study of cancer genetics and in drug development. Ceol et al. screen for genes that cooperate with mutated BRAF, and identify SETDB1 as capable of accelerating melanoma formation in fish. The gene is found in a region that is frequently amplified in human melanomas, and its gene product, SETDB1, is a histone methylating enzyme that is often overexpressed in those melanomas. This work establishes SETDB1 as an important oncogene. White et al. find expression of a gene signature in melanoma-susceptible zebrafish embryos that is indicative of disrupted differentiation of neural crest progenitors. A chemical screen identifies leflunomide, an immunomodulatory drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, as an inhibitor of neural crest stem cells. Leflunomide has antimelanoma activity in human melanoma xenografts and might prove useful as an anticancer drug, particularly in combination with BRAF inhibitors. On the cover, a heavily pigmented zebrafish expressing both SETDB1 and BRAF-V600E in its melanocytes. Credit: Yariv Houvras.
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