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Elena Stauffer, Peter Weber, Theresa Heider, Claudia Dalke, Andreas Blutke, Axel Walch, Gerald Burgstaller, Nikko Brix, Kirsten Lauber, Horst Zitzelsberger, Kristian Unger, and Martin Selmansberger

Thyroid carcinoma incidence rates in western societies are among the fastest rising, compared to all malignant tumors over the past two decades. While risk factors such as age and exposure to ionizing radiation are known, early-state carcinogenic processes or pre-lesions are poorly understood or unknown. This study aims at the identification and characterization of early-state radiation-associated neoplastic processes by histologic and transcriptomic analyses of thyroid tissues derived from a mouse model. Comprehensive histological examination of 246 thyroids (164 exposed, 82 non-exposed) was carried out. Proliferative and normal tissues from exposed cases and normal tissue from non-exposed cases were collected by laser-capture microdissection, followed by RNAseq transcriptomic profiling using a low input 3′-library preparation protocol, differential gene expression analysis and functional association by gene set enrichment analysis. Nine exposed samples exhibited proliferative lesions, while none of the non-exposed samples showed histological abnormalities, indicating an association of ionizing radiation exposure with histological abnormalities. Activated immune response signaling and deregulated metabolic processes were observed in irradiated tissue with normal histology compared to normal tissue from non-exposed samples. Proliferative lesions compared to corresponding normal tissues showed enrichment for mainly proliferation-associated gene sets. Consistently, proliferative lesion samples from exposed mice showed elevated proliferation-associated signaling and deregulated metabolic processes compared to normal samples from non-exposed mice. Our findings suggest that a molecular deregulation may be detectable in histologically normal thyroid tissues and in early proliferative lesions in the frame of multi-step progression from irradiated normal tissue to tumorous lesions.

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Jonathan Nyce

Androgens play a fundamental role in the morbidity and mortality of COVID-19, inducing both the ACE-2 receptor to which SARS-CoV-2 binds to gain entry into the cell, and TMPRS22, the transmembrane protease that primes the viral spike protein for efficient infection. The United States stands alone among developed nations in permitting one androgen, oral DHEA, to be freely available OTC and online as a ‘dietary supplement’. DHEA is widely used by males in the US to offset the age-related decline in circulating androgens. This fact may contribute to the disparate statistics of COVID-19 morbidity and mortality in this country. In regulatory antithesis, every other developed nation regulates DHEA as a controlled substance. DHEA is an extremely potent inhibitor of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), with uniquely unstable uncompetitive inhibition kinetics. This has particular relevance to COVID-19 because G6PD-deficient human cells have been demonstrated to be exceptionally sensitive to infection by human coronavirus. Because DHEA is lipophilic and freely passes into cells, oral DHEA bypasses the normal controls regulating androgen biology and uncompetitive G6PD inhibition. DHEA’s status as a ‘dietary supplement’ means that no clinical trials demonstrating safety have been performed, and, in the absence of physician supervision, no data on adverse events have been collected. During the current pandemic, the unrestricted availability of oral DHEA as a ‘dietary supplement’ cannot be considered safe without proof from placebo-controlled clinical trials that it is not contributing to the severity of COVID-19. US physicians may therefore wish to query their patients’ use of DHEA.

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Ziqiang Yuan, Juliet C Gardiner, Elaine C Maggi, Shuyu Huang, Asha Adem, Svetlana Bagdasarov, Guiying Li, Sylvia Lee, Daniel Slegowski, Alyssa Exarchakis, James R Howe, Edmund C Lattime, Xingxing Zang, and Steven K Libutti

The B7 family, and their receptors, the CD28 family, are major immune checkpoints that regulate T-cell activation and function. In the present study, we explore the role of two B7 immune-checkpoints: HERV-H LTR-Associating Protein 2 (HHLA2) and B7 Family Member, H4 (B7x), in the progression of gastrointestinal and pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (GINETs and PNETs). We demonstrated that both HHLA2 and B7x were expressed to a high degree in human GINETs and PNETs. We determined that the expression of B7x and HHLA2 correlates with higher grade and higher incidence of nodal and distant spread. Furthermore, we confirmed that HIF-1α overexpression is associated with the upregulation of B7x both in our in vivo (animal model) and in vitro (cell culture) models. When grown in vitro, islet tumor β-cells lack B7x expression, unless cultured under hypoxic conditions, which results in both hypoxia-inducible factor 1 subunit alpha (HIF-1α) and B7x upregulation. In vivo, we demonstrated that Men1/B7x double knockout (KO) mice (with loss of B7x expression) exhibited decreased islet β-cell proliferation and tumor transformation accompanied by increased T-cell infiltration compared with Men1 single knockout mice. We have also shown that systemic administration of a B7x mAb to our Men1 KO mice with PNETs promotes an antitumor response mediated by increased T-cell infiltration. These findings suggest that B7x may be a critical mediator of tumor immunity in the tumor microenvironment of NETs. Therefore, targeting B7x offers an attractive strategy for the immunotherapy of patients suffering from NETs.

Open access

Trisha Dwight, Edward Kim, Karine Bastard, Diana E Benn, Graeme Eisenhofer, Susan Richter, Massimo Mannelli, Elena Rapizzi, Aleksander Prejbisz, Mariola Pęczkowska, Karel Pacak, and Roderick Clifton-Bligh

Mosaic or somatic EPAS1 mutations are associated with a range of phenotypes including pheochromocytoma and/or paraganglioma (PPGL), polycythemia and somatostatinoma. The pathogenic potential of germline EPAS1 variants however is not well understood. We report a number of germline EPAS1 variants occurring in patients with PPGL, including a novel variant c.739C>A (p.Arg247Ser); a previously described variant c.1121T>A (p.Phe374Tyr); several rare variants, c.581A>G (p.His194Arg), c.2353C>A (p.Pro785Thr) and c.2365A>G (p.Ile789Val); a common variant c.2296A>C (p.Thr766Pro). We performed detailed functional studies to understand their pathogenic role in PPGL. In transient transfection studies, EPAS1/HIF-2α p.Arg247Ser, p.Phe374Tyr and p.Pro785Thr were all stable in normoxia. In co-immunoprecipitation assays, only the novel variant p.Arg247Ser showed diminished interaction with pVHL. A direct interaction between HIF-2α Arg247 and pVHL was confirmed in structural models. Transactivation was assessed by means of a HRE-containing reporter gene in transiently transfected cells, and significantly higher reporter activity was only observed with EPAS1/HIF-2α p.Phe374Tyr and p.Pro785Thr. In conclusion, three germline EPAS1 variants (c.739C>A (p.Arg247Ser), c.1121T>A (p.Phe374Tyr) and c.2353C>A (p.Pro785Thr)) all have some functional features in common with somatic activating mutations. Our findings suggest that these three germline variants are hypermorphic alleles that may act as modifiers to the expression of PPGLs.

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Vincenzo Condello, Filomena Cetani, Maria Denaro, Liborio Torregrossa, Elena Pardi, Paolo Piaggi, Simona Borsari, Anello Marcello Poma, Lucia Anna Muscarella, Paolo Graziano, Maria Grazia Chiofalo, Andrea Repaci, Giovanni Tallini, Francesco Boi, Gabriele Materazzi, Fulvio Basolo, and Claudio Marcocci

Parathyroid carcinoma (PC) is one of the rarest and aggressive malignancies of the endocrine system. In some instances, the histological diagnosis remains uncertain unless there is evidence of gross local invasion or secondary spread. The identification of molecular markers could improve the diagnostic accuracy of these lesions. The expression of 740 genes involved in the tumor progression processes was assessed in 8 parathyroid adenomas (PAs), 17 non-metastatic and 10 metastatic PCs using NanoString technology. Clustering analysis and Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA) were interrogated to compare the gene expression profiles among the three analyzed groups and to evaluate the potential role of differentially expressed genes, respectively. The 103 differentially expressed genes between metastatic PCs and PAs are able to discriminate perfectly the two groups from a molecular point of view. The molecular signatures identified in non-metastatic PCs vs PAs and in metastatic PCs vs non-metastatic PCs comparisons, although with some exceptions, seem to be histotype-specific IPA reveals that hepatic fibrosis/hepatic stellate cell activation and GP6 signaling pathway are involved in malignant behavior of parathyroid tumors, whereas the activation of the HOTAIR regulatory pathway are involved in the metastatization process. Our investigation identified differentially expressed genes in non-metastatic PCs mainly encoding ECM proteins and in metastatic PCs driving endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition or encoding mediators of angiogenesis. The identified genes might be promising molecular markers potentially useful in the clinical practice for the early diagnosis and prognosis of PC.

Free access

Arun Mouli Kolinjivadi, Siao Ting Chong, and Joanne Ngeow

Co-ordinated oscillation of mammalian circadian clock and cell cycle is essential for cellular and organismal homeostasis. Existing preclinical, epidemiological, molecular and biochemical evidence reveals a robust interplay between circadian clock, genome instability and cancer. Furthermore, recent investigations have demonstrated that the alterations in circadian clock perturb genome stability by modulating the cell-cycle timing, altering DNA replication fork progression, influencing DNA damage response (DDR) and DNA repair efficiency. In this review, we examine the most recent findings from different eukaryotic model systems and discuss the functional interaction between circadian factors with key DNA replication, DDR and DNA repair genes.

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Eliot B Blatt, Noa Kopplin, Shourya Kumar, Ping Mu, Suzanne D Conzen, and Ganesh V Raj

Prostate cancer (PCa) and breast cancer (BCa) are both hormone-dependent cancers that require the androgen receptor (AR) and estrogen receptor (ER, ESR1) for growth and proliferation, respectively. Endocrine therapies that target these nuclear receptors (NRs) provide significant clinical benefit for metastatic patients. However, these therapeutic strategies are seldom curative and therapy resistance is prevalent. Because the vast majority of therapy-resistant PCa and BCa remain dependent on the augmented activity of their primary NR driver, common mechanisms of resistance involve enhanced NR signaling through overexpression, mutation, or alternative splicing of the receptor, coregulator alterations, and increased intracrine hormonal synthesis. In addition, a significant subset of endocrine therapy-resistant tumors become independent of their primary NR and switch to alternative NR or transcriptional drivers. While these hormone-dependent cancers generally employ similar mechanisms of endocrine therapy resistance, distinct differences between the two tumor types have been observed. In this review, we compare and contrast the most frequent mechanisms of antiandrogen and antiestrogen resistance, and provide potential therapeutic strategies for targeting both advanced PCa and BCa.

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Eva Hadadi and Hervé Acloque

The circadian rhythm is a major environmental regulator of plants and animal physiology. The alternation of days and nights is translated at the cell and tissue level thanks to a molecular machinery, called the circadian clock. This clock controls in particular numerous endocrine functions, and its imbalances can have serious consequences on homeostasis. This is particularly true for the development of endocrine-related cancers, like breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. Circadian rhythm disorder (CRD) not only affects key hormone levels (including oestrogen, melatonin, insulin, glucagon, cortisol) but also favours a pro-inflammatory and immunosuppressive phenotype in the tumour microenvironment. This particular aspect is conducive to epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of solid epithelial tumours and cancer cell dissemination. It also favours resistance to chemo- and immunotherapy. Here, we discuss the current knowledge on this crosstalk between CRD, EMT and the immune microenvironment in endocrine-related cancers and its consequences for the development of efficient therapies.

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V Craig Jordan

Following the discovery and approval of the oral contraceptive, the pharmaceutical industry sought new opportunities for the regulation of reproduction. The discovery of the first non-steroidal anti-oestrogen MER25, with antifertility properties in laboratory animals, started a search for ‘morning-after pills’. There were multiple options in the 1960s, however, one compound ICI 46,474 was investigated, but found to induce ovulation in subfertile women. A second option was to treat stage IV breast cancer. Although the patent for ICI 46,474 was awarded in the early 1960s in the UK and around the world, a patent in the USA was denied on the basis that the claims for breast cancer treatment were not supported by evidence. A trial at the Christie Hospital and Holt Radium Institute in Manchester, published in 1971, showed activity compared with alternatives: high-dose oestrogen or androgen treatment, but the US Patent Office was unswayed until 1985! The future of tamoxifen to be, was in the balance in 1972 but the project went forward as an orphan drug looking for applications and a translational research strategy was needed. Today, tamoxifen is known as the first targeted therapy in cancer with successful applications to treat all stages of breast cancer, male breast cancer, and the first medicine for the reduction of breast cancer incidence in high-risk pre- and post-menopausal women. This is the unlikely story of how an orphan medicine changed medical practice around the world, with millions of women’s lives extended.