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Fiorenza Gianì, Giuseppe Pandini, Nunzio Massimo Scalisi, Paolo Vigneri, Carmine Fazzari, Pasqualino Malandrino, Marco Russo, Romilda Masucci, Antonino Belfiore, Gwabriella Pellegriti and Riccardo Vigneri

Thyroid cancer incidence is increased in volcanic areas where environment pollution biocontaminates residents. Tungsten (W) is the most increased heavy metal in drinking water of Mount Etna volcanic area where it exceeds the normal range in the urine of 27% inhabitants. The possible connection between increased tungsten and thyroid cancer has never been studied. We investigated in vitro the effect tungsten on both human thyrocytes in primary culture, thyrospheres (aggregates of stem/precursor thyroid cells) and thyrocytes differentiated from tungsten-exposed thyrospheres. Chronic exposure to low-dose (nanomolar range, as in the urines of volcanic area residents) soluble tungsten had major biological effects on thyroid stem/precursor cells, promoting growth with a biphasic (hormetic) dose-response and reducing apoptosis. No such effects were observed in mature thyrocytes. In addition, tungsten-exposed thyrospheres had abnormal expression of genes commonly altered also in thyroid cancer and increased activation of the DNA-repair proteins H2AX and 53BP1. Moreover, exposure to tungsten decreased thyrosphere differentiation, as indicated by the reduced expression of thyroid-specific genes in derived thyrocytes that also showed preneoplastic changes such as increased anchorage-independent growth, clonogenic growth and migration capacity. The mechanism of action of tungsten on thyroid stem/precursor cells is unclear but involves membrane G-proteins and activation of the ERK signaling pathway. These data indicate that chronic exposure to slightly increased tungsten, harmless for mature thyrocytes, importantly affects the biology of stem/precursor thyroid cells and of their progeny, inducing characteristics of preneoplastic transformation.

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Christodoulos P Pipinikas, Alison M Berner, Teresa Sposito and Christina Thirlwell

Neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) are a relatively rare group of heterogeneous tumours originating from neuroendocrine cells found throughout the body. Pancreatic NENs (PanNENs) are the second most common pancreatic malignancy accounting for 1–3% of all neoplasms developing in the pancreas. Despite having a low background mutation rate, driver mutations in MEN1, DAXX/ATRX and mTOR pathway genes (PTEN, TSC1/2) are implicated in disease development and progression. Their increased incidence coupled with advances in sequencing technologies has reignited the interest in PanNEN research and has accelerated the acquisition of molecular data. Studies utilising such technological advances have further enriched our knowledge of PanNENs’ biology through novel findings, including higher-than-expected presence of germline mutations in 17% of sporadic tumours of no familial background, identification of novel mutational signatures and complex chromosomal rearrangements and a dysregulated epigenetic machinery. Integrated genomic studies have progressed the field by identifying the synergistic action between different molecular mechanisms, while holding the promise for deciphering disease heterogeneity. Although our understanding is far from being complete, these novel findings have provided the optimism of shaping the future of PanNEN research, ultimately leading to an era of precision medicine for NETs. Here, we recapitulate the existing knowledge on pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PanNETs) and discuss how recent, novel findings have furthered our understanding of these complex tumours.

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Christina M Knippler, Motoyasu Saji, Neel Rajan, Kyle Porter, Krista M D La Perle and Matthew D Ringel

The number of individuals who succumb to thyroid cancer has been increasing and those who are refractory to standard care have limited therapeutic options, highlighting the importance of developing new treatments for patients with aggressive forms of the disease. Mutational activation of MAPK signaling, through BRAF and RAS mutations and/or gene rearrangements, and activation of PI3K signaling, through mutational activation of PIK3CA or loss of PTEN, are well described in aggressive thyroid cancer. We previously reported overactivation and overexpression of p21-activated kinases (PAKs) in aggressive human thyroid cancer invasive fronts and determined that PAK1 functionally regulated thyroid cancer cell migration. We reported mechanistic crosstalk between the MAPK and PAK pathways that are BRAF-dependent but MEK independent, suggesting that PAK and MEK inhibition might be synergistic. In the present study, we tested this hypothesis. Pharmacologic inhibition of group I PAKs using two PAK kinase inhibitors, G-5555 or FRAX1036, reduced thyroid cancer cell viability, cell cycle progression and migration and invasion, with greater potency for G-5555. Combination of G-5555 with vemurafenib was synergistic in BRAFV600E-mutated thyroid cancer cell lines. Finally, G-5555 restrained thyroid size of BRAFV600E-driven murine papillary thyroid cancer by >50% (P < 0.0001) and reduced carcinoma formation (P = 0.0167), despite maintenance of MAPK activity. Taken together, these findings suggest both that group I PAKs may be a new therapeutic target for thyroid cancer and that PAK activation is functionally important for BRAFV600E-mediated thyroid cancer development.

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Lucieli Ceolin, Marta Amaro da Silveira Duval, Antônio Felippe Benini, Carla Vaz Ferreira and Ana Luiza Maia

Medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) is a rare type of tumor that originates from thyroid C cells and accounts for 2–4% of all malignant thyroid neoplasms. MTC may occur sporadically or be inherited, as part of the MEN 2 syndrome. Germline mutations of the RET (REarranged during Transfection) proto-oncogene cause hereditary cancer, whereas somatic RET mutations and, less frequently, RAS mutations have been described in sporadic MTC samples. Since early surgery with complete resection of tumor mostly determines the likelihood of attaining cure for MTC, the broader use of RET genetic screening has dramatically changed the prognostic of gene carriers in hereditary MTC. Nevertheless, despite recent advances, the management of advanced, progressive MTC remains challenging. The multikinase inhibitors (MKI), vandetanib and cabozantinib, were approved for the treatment of progressive or symptomatic MTC, and several other compounds have exhibited variable efficacy. Although these drugs have been shown to improve progression-free survival, no MKI has been shown to increase the overall survival. As these drugs are nonselective, significant off-target toxicities may occur, limiting achievement of the required TK-specific inhibition. Recently, next-generation small-molecule TKI has been developed. These TKI are specifically designed for highly potent and selective targeting of oncogenic RET alterations, making them promising drugs for the treatment of advanced MTC. Here, we summarize the current understanding of the intracellular signaling pathways involved in MTC pathogenesis as well as the therapeutic approaches and challenges for the management of advanced MTC, focusing on targeted molecular therapies.

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Tessa Brabander, Julie Nonnekens and Johannes Hofland

Peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) with [177Lu]Lu-DOTA-[Tyr3]octreotate has been successfully developed in the last decades for the treatment of neuroendocrine neoplasms. However, different methods to improve the objective response rate and survival are under investigation. This includes changes of the radioligand, dosimetry and combination therapy with different agents, such as radiosensitisers. Hofving et al. recently reported, in the April 2019 issue of Endocrine-Related Cancer, the use of heat-shock protein 90 (Hsp90) modulation to augment radiation effects as a new promising target for radiosensitisation. In this commentary, new developments in the field of PRRT are discussed, placing these new findings about Hsp90 inhibitors into context.

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Alba Jiménez-Panizo, Paloma Pérez, Ana M Rojas, Pablo Fuentes-Prior and Eva Estébanez-Perpiñá

Nuclear receptors are transcription factors that play critical roles in development, homeostasis and metabolism in all multicellular organisms. An important family of nuclear receptors comprises those members that respond to steroid hormones, and which is subdivided in turn into estrogen receptor (ER) isoforms α and β (NR3A1 and A2, respectively), and a second subfamily of so-called oxosteroid receptors. The latter includes the androgen receptor (AR/NR3C4), the glucocorticoid receptor (GR/NR3C1), the mineralocorticoid receptor (MR/NR3C2) and the progesterone receptor (PR/NR3C3). Here we review recent advances in our understanding of the structure-and-function relationship of steroid nuclear receptors and discuss their implications for the etiology of human diseases. We focus in particular on the role played by AR dysregulation in both prostate cancer (PCa) and androgen insensitivity syndromes (AIS), but also discuss conditions linked to mutations of the GR gene as well as those in a non-steroidal receptor, the thyroid hormone receptor (TR). Finally, we explore how these recent results might be exploited for the development of novel and selective therapeutic strategies.

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Francesca Coperchini, Laura Croce, Michele Marinò, Luca Chiovato and Mario Rotondi

Inflammation is currently regarded as an essential component of malignancies. It is now known that the tumor microenvironment may profoundly influence the biological behavior of cancer cells and ultimately the patient’s outcome. Chemokine and their receptor play a major role in determining the immune phenotype of the cells infiltrating the thyroid tumor microenvironment. Experimental evidence shows that both normal and cancer thyroid cells express specific chemokine receptors. The expression of at least some of these receptors exerts several biological effects, which influence the course of the disease. The present review article will take into account the role of the most studied chemokine receptors (CXCR1, CXCR2, CXCR3, CXCR4, CXCR7, DARC, CCR3, CCR6 and CCR7) in the context of thyroid cancer. This review will focus on current knowledge provided by in vitro and in vivo studies specifically performed on thyroid cancer including (i) expression of chemokine receptors in normal and cancer thyroid cells; (ii) role of chemokine receptors in affecting the biological behavior of thyroid tumors including the metastatic process; (iii) current knowledge about immunotherapies through targeting of chemokine receptors in thyroid cancer.

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Shu-Fu Lin, Jen-Der Lin, Chun-Nan Yeh, Yu-Tung Huang, Ting-Chao Chou and Richard J Wong

Polo-like kinases (PLKs) are pivotal regulators of cell proliferation and cell survival; therefore, PLKs may be potential targets in the treatment of malignancy. The therapeutic effects of volasertib, a PLKs inhibitor for papillary and follicular thyroid cancer (known as well-differentiated thyroid cancer (WDTC)), were evaluated in this study. Volasertib inhibited cell proliferation in two papillary and two follicular thyroid cancer cell lines in a dose-dependent manner. Volasertib treatment reduced cells in the S phase and increased cells in the G2/M phase. Volasertib activated caspase-3 activity and induced apoptosis. Drug combinations of volasertib and sorafenib showed mostly synergism in four well-differentiated thyroid carcinoma cell lines in vitro. Volasertib treatment in vivo retarded the growth of a papillary thyroid tumor model. Furthermore, the combination of volasertib with sorafenib was more effective than a single treatment of either in a follicular thyroid cancer xenograft model. Promising safety profiles appeared in animals treated with either volasertib alone or volasertib and sorafenib combination therapy. These findings support volasertib as a potential drug for the treatment of patients with WDTC.

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Emily L Esakov, James Hale, Elliott G Richards, Luke Torre-Healy, Keerthi Gullapalli, Div Trivedi, Anastasia Chumakova, Oliver Wessely, Jan Jensen, Justin Lathia and Ofer Reizes

Breast cancer is the most prevalent malignancy and second leading cause of death in women worldwide, with hormone receptor-positive luminal breast cancers being the most widespread subtype. While these tumors are generally amenable to endocrine therapy, cellular heterogeneity and acquired ability of tumor cells to undergo cell state switching makes these populations difficult to be fully targeted and eradicated through conventional methods. We have leveraged a quality-by-design (QbD) approach that integrates biological responses with predictive mathematical modeling to identify key combinations of commercially available drugs to induce estrogen receptor expression for therapeutic targeting. This technology utilizes a high level of automation through a custom-built platform to reduce bias as well as design-of-experiments methodology to minimize the experimental iterations required. Utilizing this approach, we identified a combination of clinical compounds, each at concentrations well below their efficacious dose, able to induce the expression of estrogen receptor alpha (ESR1) in hormone-positive breast cancer cells. Induction of ESR1 in luminal cells leads to chemosensitization. These findings provide proof of concept for the utility of the QbD strategy and identify a unique drug cocktail able to sensitize breast cancer cells to tamoxifen.

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Filomena Cetani, Claudio Marcocci, Liborio Torregrossa and Elena Pardi

Atypical parathyroid adenomas represent a group of intermediate form of parathyroid neoplasms of uncertain malignant potential which show some atypical histological features that represent a challenge for the differential diagnosis with parathyroid carcinomas. They may occur as sporadic or as a part of hereditary syndromes. The molecular signature of these neoplasms is still unknown and the germline CDC73 mutations appears to be the most common anomaly in this setting suggesting that these cases might represent variants of the hyperparathyroidism-jaw tumor syndrome. The identification of markers predicting the outcome is of great importance to guide an adequate postoperative monitoring and, the same time, relieve of the anxiety of relatively strict monitoring patients not at risk. This review will summarize the current knowledge of the clinical, biochemical, molecular and histological profile of atypical parathyroid adenomas.