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Margo Dona, Selma Waaijers, Susan Richter, Graeme Eisenhofer, Jeroen Korving, Sarah M Kamel, Jeroen Bakkers, Elena Rapizzi, Richard J Rodenburg, Jan Zethof, Marnix Gorissen, Gert Flik, Peter M T Deen, and Henri J L M Timmers

Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGLs) caused by mutations in the B-subunit of the succinate dehydrogenase (SDHB) have the highest metastatic rate among PPGLs, and effective systemic therapy is lacking. To unravel underlying pathogenic mechanisms, and to evaluate therapeutic strategies, suitable in vivo models are needed. The available systemic Sdhb knock-out mice cannot model the human PPGL phenotype: heterozygous Sdhb mice lack a disease phenotype, and homozygous Sdhb mice are embryonically lethal. Using CRISPR/cas9 technology, we introduced a protein-truncating germline lesion into the zebrafish sdhb gene. Heterozygous sdhb mutants were viable and displayed no obvious morphological or developmental defects. Homozygous sdhb larvae were viable, but exhibited a decreased lifespan. Morphological analysis revealed incompletely or non-inflated swim bladders in homozygous sdhb mutants at day 6. Although no differences in number and ultrastructure of the mitochondria were observed. Clear defects in energy metabolism and swimming behavior were observed in homozygous sdhb mutant larvae. Functional and metabolomic analyses revealed decreased mitochondrial complex 2 activity and significant succinate accumulation in the homozygous sdhb mutant larvae, mimicking the metabolic effects observed in SDHB-associated PPGLs. This is the first study to present a vertebrate animal model that mimics metabolic effects of SDHB-associated PPGLs. This model will be useful in unraveling pathomechanisms behind SDHB-associated PPGLs. We can now study the metabolic effects of sdhb disruption during different developmental stages and develop screening assays to identify novel therapeutic targets in vivo. Besides oncological syndromes, our model might also be useful for pediatric mitochondrial disease caused by loss of the SDHB gene.

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Chiara Verdelli, Irene Forno, Annamaria Morotti, Riccardo Maggiore, Gilberto Mari, Leonardo Vicentini, Stefano Ferrero, Elisabetta Kuhn, Valentina Vaira, and Sabrina Corbetta

Tumors of the parathyroid glands are highly vascularized and display a microRNA (miRNA) profile divergent from normal parathyroid glands (PaNs). Angiogenic miRNAs, namely miR-126-3p, miR-126-5p, and miR-296-5p, have been found downregulated in parathyroid tumors. Here, we show that miR-126-3p expression levels are reduced in parathyroid adenomas (PAds; n = 12) compared with PaNs (n = 4). In situ hybridization (ISH) of miR-126-3p and miR-296-5p in 10 PAds show that miR-126-3p is expressed by endothelial cells lining the walls of great vessels and by cells within the thin stroma surrounding acinar structures. At variance, miR-296-5p was detectable in most PAd epithelial cells. Combining ISH for miR-126-3p with immunohistochemistry for the endothelial and mesenchymal markers CD34, CD31 and α-smooth muscle actin (αSMA), we could identify that miR-126-3p is localized in the αSMA-positive thin stroma. Further, miR-126-3p-expressing cells are enriched in the CD34-positive stromal cells surrounding epithelial cell acinar structures, a cellular pattern consistent with tumor-associated myofibroblasts (TAMs). In line with this, CD34-positive cells, sorted by FACS from PAds tissues, express miR-126-3p at higher levels than CD34-negative cells, suggesting that miR-126-3p downregulation promotes the endothelial-to-αSMA+ mesenchymal transition. In human mesenchymal stem cells derived from bone marrow (hBM-MSCs), a model of TAMs, the co-culture with PAds-derived cells for 5 days decreases miR-126-3p, while it increases VEGFA expression. At variance, adrenomedullin (ADM) expression is unaffected. Finally, overexpression of the miR-126-3p mimic in both hBM-MSCs and PAds-derived explants downregulates VEGFA expression levels. In conclusion, miR-126-3p is expressed by both endothelial cells and TAMs in PAds, and its downregulation promotes neoangiogenesis, possibly through VEGFA overexpression.

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Marcela Rassi-Cruz, Andrea G Maria, Fabio R Faucz, Edra London, Leticia A P Vilela, Lucas S Santana, Anna Flavia F Benedetti, Tatiana S Goldbaum, Fabio Y Tanno, Vitor Srougi, Jose L Chambo, Maria Adelaide A Pereira, Aline C B S Cavalcante, Francisco C Carnevale, Bruna Pilan, Luiz A Bortolotto, Luciano F Drager, Antonio M Lerario, Ana Claudia Latronico, Maria Candida B V Fragoso, Berenice B Mendonca, Maria Claudia N Zerbini, Constantine A Stratakis, and Madson Q Almeida


Familial primary aldosteronism (PA) is rare and mostly diagnosed in early-onset hypertension (HT). However, ‘sporadic’ bilateral adrenal hyperplasia (BAH) is the most frequent cause of PA and remains without genetic etiology in most cases. Our aim was to investigate new genetic defects associated with BAH and PA. We performed whole-exome sequencing (paired blood and adrenal tissue) in six patients with PA caused by BAH that underwent unilateral adrenalectomy. Additionally, we conducted functional studies in adrenal hyperplastic tissue and transfected cells to confirm the pathogenicity of the identified genetic variants. Rare germline variants in phosphodiesterase 2A (PDE2A) and 3B (PDE3B) genes were identified in three patients. The PDE2A heterozygous variant (p.Ile629Val) was identified in a patient with BAH and early-onset HT at 13 years of age. Two PDE3B heterozygous variants (p.Arg217Gln and p.Gly392Val) were identified in patients with BAH and HT diagnosed at 18 and 33 years of age, respectively. A strong PDE2A staining was found in all cases of BAH in zona glomerulosa and/or micronodules (that were also positive for CYP11B2). PKA activity in frozen tissue was significantly higher in BAH from patients harboring PDE2A and PDE3B variants. PDE2A and PDE3B variants significantly reduced protein expression in mutant transfected cells compared to WT. Interestingly, PDE2A and PDE3B variants increased SGK1 and SCNN1G/ENaCg at mRNA or protein levels. In conclusion, PDE2A and PDE3B variants were associated with PA caused by BAH. These novel genetic findings expand the spectrum of genetic etiologies of PA.

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Stephanie Metcalf, Belinda J Petri, Traci Kruer, Benjamin Green, Susan Dougherty, James L Wittliff, Carolyn M Klinge, and Brian F Clem

Estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer (ER+ BC) is the most common form of breast carcinoma accounting for approximately 70% of all diagnoses. Although ER-targeted therapies have improved survival outcomes for this BC subtype, a significant proportion of patients will ultimately develop resistance to these clinical interventions, resulting in disease recurrence. Phosphoserine aminotransferase 1 (PSAT1), an enzyme within the serine synthetic pathway (SSP), has been previously implicated in endocrine resistance. Therefore, we determined whether expression of SSP enzymes, PSAT1 or phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase (PHGDH), affects the response of ER+ BC to 4-hydroxytamoxifen (4-OHT) treatment. To investigate a clinical correlation between PSAT1, PHGDH, and endocrine resistance, we examined microarray data from ER+ patients who received tamoxifen as the sole endocrine therapy. We confirmed that higher PSAT1 and PHGDH expression correlates negatively with poorer outcomes in tamoxifen-treated ER+ BC patients. Next, we found that SSP enzyme expression and serine synthesis were elevated in tamoxifen-resistant compared to tamoxifen-sensitive ER+ BC cells in vitro. To determine relevance to endocrine sensitivity, we modified the expression of either PSAT1 or PHGDH in each cell type. Overexpression of PSAT1 in tamoxifen-sensitive MCF-7 cells diminished 4-OHT inhibition on cell proliferation. Conversely, silencing of either PSAT1 or PHGDH resulted in greater sensitivity to 4-OHT treatment in LCC9 tamoxifen-resistant cells. Likewise, the combination of a PHGDH inhibitor with 4-OHT decreased LCC9 cell proliferation. Collectively, these results suggest that overexpression of serine synthetic pathway enzymes contribute to tamoxifen resistance in ER+ BC, which can be targeted as a novel combinatorial treatment option.

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Pedro Weslley Rosario, Tiara Grossi Rocha, and Gabriela Franco Mourão

In thyroid nodules (TN) submitted to fine-needle aspiration (FNA), Bethesda categories III and IV are considered ‘indeterminate’ cytology. This result corresponds to 10–25% of all FNAs and the risk of malignancy (RoM) ranges from 10% to 30% for category III and from 15% to 40% for category IV. This review analyzed the practical applicability of accessible imaging method in the management of patients with cytologically indeterminate TN > 1 cm (ITN). When ITN are highly suspicious on ultrasonography (US), the RoM supports surgical indication even in the absence of additional tests. The same can be applied to ITN of intermediate suspicion but with elevated stiffness on elastography. Follow-up without additional tests is acceptable in the case of ITN with low-risk cytology and low-suspicion appearance on US and elastography (if obtained). In the case of ITN without highly suspicious US appearance, 123I scintigraphy may be obtained in patients with TSH < 1–1.5 mIU/L to rule out hyperfunctioning nodules before requesting diagnostic methods that are more expensive and less accessible. In addition, in ITN with not very suspicious US appearance, 18FDG-PET may be obtained. If this method does not reveal nodular uptake, the risk of the nodule corresponding to a macrocarcinoma is sufficiently low in order to allow follow-up. The positive predictive value of focal nodular uptake on 18FDG-PET depends on the pre-test RoM, cytological findings, and maximum SUV. There is currently no evidence for the use of CT, MRI or imaging using 99mTc-MIBI to define the nature of ITN.

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Lisa K Philp, Anja Rockstroh, Melanie Lehman, Martin C Sadowski, Nenad Bartonicek, John D Wade, Laszlo Otvos Jr, and Colleen C Nelson

Adiponectin is an adipokine originally identified as dysregulated in obesity, with a key role in insulin sensitisation and in maintaining systemic energy balance. However, adiponectin is progressively emerging as having aberrant signalling in multiple disease states, including prostate cancer (PCa). Circulating adiponectin is lower in patients with PCa than in non-malignant disease, and inversely correlates with cancer severity. More severe hypoadiponectinemia is observed in advanced PCa than in organ-confined disease. Given the crossover between adiponectin signalling and several cancer hallmark pathways that influence PCa growth and progression, we hypothesised that targeting dysregulated adiponectin signalling may inhibit tumour growth and progression. We, therefore, aimed to test the efficacy of correcting the hypoadiponectinemia and dysregulated adiponectin signalling observed in PCa, a world-first PCa therapeutic approach, using peptide adiponectin receptor (ADIPOR) agonist ADP355 in mice bearing subcutaneous LNCaP xenografts. We demonstrate significant evidence for PCa growth inhibition by ADP355, which slowed tumour growth and delayed progression of serum PCa biomarker, prostate-specific antigen (PSA), compared to vehicle. ADP355 conferred a significant advantage by increasing time on treatment with a delayed ethical endpoint. mRNA sequencing and protein expression analyses of tumours revealed ADP355 PCa growth inhibition may be through altered cellular energetics, cellular stress and protein synthesis, which may culminate in apoptosis, as evidenced by the increased apoptotic marker in ADP355-treated tumours. Our findings highlight the efficacy of ADP355 in targeting classical adiponectin-associated signalling pathways in vivo and provide insights into the promising future for modulating adiponectin signalling through ADIPOR agonism as a novel anti-tumour treatment modality.

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Jean-Pierre Bayley and Peter Devilee

This review describes human and rodent-derived cell lines and xenografts developed over the last five decades that are suitable or potentially suitable models for paraganglioma–pheochromocytoma research. We outline the strengths and weaknesses of various models and emphasize the recurring theme that, despite the major challenges involved, more effort is required in the search for valid human and animal cell models of paraganglioma–pheochromocytoma, particularly those relevant to cancers carrying a mutation in one of the succinate dehydrogenase genes. Despite many setbacks, the recent development of a potentially important new model, the RS0 cell line, gives reason for optimism regarding the future of models in the paraganglioma–pheochromocytoma field. We also note that classic approaches to cell line derivation such as SV40-mediated immortalization and newer approaches such as organoid culture or iPSCs have been insufficiently explored. As many existing cell lines have been poorly characterized, we provide recommendations for reporting of paraganglioma and pheochromocytoma cell lines, including the strong recommendation that cell lines are made widely available via the ATCC or a similar cell repository. Basic research in paraganglioma–pheochromocytoma is currently transitioning from the analysis of genetics to the analysis of disease mechanisms and the clinically exploitable vulnerabilities of tumors. A successful transition will require many more disease-relevant human and animal models to ensure continuing progress.

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Yuanzhong Wang, Yen-Dun Tony Tzeng, Gregory Chang, Xiaoqiang Wang, and Shiuan Chen

Acquired resistance to aromatase inhibitors (AIs) is a significant clinical issue in endocrine therapy for estrogen receptor (ER) positive breast cancer which accounts for the majority of breast cancer. Despite estrogen production being suppressed, ERα signaling remains active and plays a key role in most AI-resistant breast tumors. Here, we found that amphiregulin (AREG), an ERα transcriptional target and EGF receptor (EGFR) ligand, is crucial for maintaining ERα expression and signaling in acquired AI-resistant breast cancer cells. AREG was deregulated and critical for cell viability in ER+ AI-resistant breast cancer cells, and ectopic expression of AREG in hormone responsive breast cancer cells promoted endocrine resistance. RNA-sequencing and reverse phase protein array analyses revealed that AREG maintains ERα expression and signaling by activation of PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling and upregulation of forkhead box M1 (FOXM1) and serum- and glucocorticoid-inducible kinase 3 (SGK3) expression. Our study uncovers a previously unappreciated role of AREG in maintaining ERα expression and signaling, and establishes the AREG-ERα crosstalk as a driver of acquired AI resistance in breast cancer.

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Sophie Moog, Charlotte Lussey-Lepoutre, and Judith Favier

Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGL) are rare neuroendocrine tumors arising from the adrenal medulla or extra-adrenal paraganglia. Around 40% of all cases are caused by a germline mutation in a susceptibility gene, half of which being found in an SDHx gene (SDHA, SDHB, SDHC, SDHD or SDHAF2). They encode the four subunits and assembly factor of succinate dehydrogenase (SDH), a mitochondrial enzyme involved both in the tricarboxylic acid cycle and electron transport chain. SDHx mutations lead to the accumulation of succinate, which acts as an oncometabolite by inhibiting iron(II) and alpha-ketoglutarate-dependent dioxygenases thereby regulating the cell’s hypoxic response and epigenetic processes. Moreover, SDHx mutations induce cell metabolic reprogramming and redox imbalance. Major discoveries in PPGL pathophysiology have been made since the initial discovery of SDHD gene mutations in 2000, improving the understanding of their biology and patient management. It indeed provides new opportunities for diagnostic tools and innovative therapeutic targets in order to improve the prognosis of patients affected by these rare tumors, in particular in the context of metastatic diseases associated with SDHB mutations. This review first describes an overview of the pathophysiology and then focuses on clinical implications of the epigenetic and metabolic reprogramming of SDH-deficient PPGL.

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Kathrin A Schmohl, Yang Han, Mariella Tutter, Nathalie Schwenk, Rim S J Sarker, Katja Steiger, Sibylle I Ziegler, Peter Bartenstein, Peter J Nelson, and Christine Spitzweg

Thyroid hormones are emerging as critical regulators of tumour growth and progression. To assess the contribution of thyroid hormone signalling via integrin αvβ3, expressed on many tumour cells, endothelial cells, and stromal cells, to tumour growth, we compared the effects of thyroid hormones vs tetrac, a specific inhibitor of thyroid hormone action at integrin αvβ3, in two murine xenograft tumour models with and without integrin αvβ3 expression. Integrin αvβ3-positive human anaplastic thyroid cancer cells SW1736 and integrin αvβ3-negative human hepatocellular carcinoma cells HuH7 were injected into the flanks of nude mice. Tumour growth was monitored in euthyroid, hyperthyroid, hypothyroid, and euthyroid tetrac-treated mice. In SW1736 xenografts, hyperthyroidism led to a significantly increased tumour growth resulting in a decreased survival compared to euthyroid mice, while tumour growth was significantly reduced and, hence, survival prolonged in hypothyroid and tetrac-treated mice. Both proliferation and vascularisation, as determined by Ki67 and CD31 immunofluorescence staining, respectively, were significantly increased in tumours from hyperthyroid mice as compared to hypothyroid and tetrac-treated mice. No differences in tumour growth, survival, or Ki67 staining were observed between the different groups in integrin αvβ3-negative HuH7 xenografts. Vascularisation, however, was significantly decreased in hypothyroid and tetrac-treated mice compared to euthyroid and hyperthyroid mice. Apoptosis was not affected in either tumour model, nor were cell proliferation or apoptosis in vitro. Tumour growth regulation by thyroid hormones in αvβ3-positive tumours has important implications for cancer patients, especially those with thyroid dysfunctions and thyroid cancer patients treated with thyrotropin-suppressive L-thyroxine doses.