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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.

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Irasema Mendieta, Gabriel Rodríguez-Gómez, Bertha Rueda-Zarazúa, Julia Rodríguez-Castelán, Winniberg Álvarez-León, Evangelina Delgado-González, Brenda Anguiano, Olivia Vázquez-Martínez, Mauricio Díaz-Muñoz, and Carmen Aceves

Neuroblastoma (NB) is the most common solid childhood tumor, and all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) is used as a treatment to decrease minimal residual disease. Molecular iodine (I2) induces differentiation and/or apoptosis in several neoplastic cells through activation of PPARγ nuclear receptors. Here, we analyzed whether the coadministration of I2 and ATRA increases the efficacy of NB treatment. ATRA-sensitive (SH-SY5Y), partially-sensitive (SK-N-BE(2)), and non-sensitive (SK-N-AS) NB cells were used to analyze the effect of I2 and ATRA in vitro and in xenografts (Foxn1 nu/nu mice), exploring actions on cellular viability, differentiation, and molecular responses. In the SH-SY5Y cells, 200 μM I2 caused a 100-fold (0.01 µM) reduction in the antiproliferative dose of ATRA and promoted neurite extension and neural marker expression (tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and tyrosine kinase receptor alpha (Trk-A)). In SK-N-AS, the I2 supplement sensitized these cells to 0.1 μM ATRA, increasing the ATRA-receptor (RARα) and PPARγ expression, and decreasing the Survivin expression. The I2 supplement increased the mitochondrial membrane potential in SK-N-AS suggesting the participation of mitochondrial-mediated mechanisms involved in the sensibilization to ATRA. In vivo, oral I2 supplementation (0.025%) synergized the antitumor effect of ATRA (1.5 mg/kg BW) and prevented side effects (body weight loss and diarrhea episodes). The immunohistochemical analysis showed that I2 supplementation decreased the intratumoral vasculature (CD34). We suggest that the I2 + ATRA combination should be studied in preclinical and clinical trials to evaluate its potential adjuvant effect in addition to conventional treatments.

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Charis Eng

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Kyungmin Lee, Sang-Hyun Lee, Wooil Kim, Jangwook Lee, Jong-Gil Park, Jang-Seong Kim, Jung Tae Kim, Yea Eun Kang, Minho Shong, Hyo Jin Lee, Jin-Man Kim, Won Gu Kim, Bon Seok Koo, Koon Soon Kim, and Jeong-Ki Min

Anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) is a rapidly growing, highly metastatic cancer with limited therapeutic alternatives, thus targeted therapies need to be developed. This study aimed to examine desmoglein 2 (Dsg2) expression in ATC and its biological role and potential as a therapeutic target in ATC. Consequently, Dsg2 was downregulated or aberrantly expressed in ATC tissues. ATC patients with low Dsg2 expression levels also presented with distant metastasis. Dsg2 depletion significantly increased cell migration and invasion, with a relatively limited effect on ATC cell proliferation in vitro and increased distant metastasis in vivo. Dsg2 knockdown induced cell motility through the hepatocyte growth factor receptor (HGFR, c-Met)/Src/Rac1 signaling axis, with no alterations in the expression of EMT-related molecules. Further, specific targeting of c-Met significantly inhibited the motility of shDsg2-depleted ATC cells. Decreased membrane Dsg2 expression increased the metastatic potential of ATC cells. These results indicate that Dsg2 plays an important role in ATC cell migration and invasiveness. Therapies targeting c-Met might be effective among ATC patients with low membrane Dsg2 expression levels, indicating that the analysis of Dsg2 expression potentially provides novel insights into treatment strategies for ATC.

Open access

Pei-Pei Xu, Su Zeng, Xiao-Tian Xia, Zi-Heng Ye, Mei-Fang Li, Ming-Yun Chen, Tian Xia, Jing-Jing Xu, Qiong Jiao, Liang Liu, Lian-Xi Li, and Ming-Gao Guo

Our aims were to uncover the role of FAM172A (Family with sequence similarity 172 member A) in the pathogenesis of follicular thyroid carcinoma (FTC) and to evaluate its value in the differential diagnosis between malignant and benign thyroid follicular lesions. FAM172A expression was evaluated by q-PCR, immunoblotting and immunohistochemistry (IHC). The ability of proliferation, migration and invasion of cells were assessed by Cell Counting Kit-8 assay (CCK8), clone-formation and Transwell assays. Nude mouse tumorigenicity assays were used to investigate the role of FAM172A in the pathogenesis of FTC in vivo. The value of FAM172A in the differential diagnosis for FTC was assessed using 120 formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) tissues after the operation and 81 fine-needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB) samples before the operation. FAM172A was highly expressed in FTC tissues and FTC cell lines. Downregulation of FAM172A inhibited the proliferation, invasion and migration of FTC cells through Erk1/2 and JNK pathways. Subcutaneous tumorigenesis in nude mice showed that knockdown of FAM172A inhibited tumor growth and progression in vivo. The FAM172A IHC scores of 3.5 had 92% sensitivity and 63% specificity to separate FTC from benign/borderline thyroid follicular lesions, and 92% sensitivity and 80% specificity to discriminate FTC from benign thyroid follicular lesions in postoperative FFPE samples. The corresponding values were 75 and 78%, and 75 and 89% in preoperative FNA samples, respectively. FAM172A plays an important role in the pathogenesis of FTC through Erk1/2 and JNK pathways. FAM172A may be a potential marker for the preoperative diagnosis of FTC based on the IHC results of thyroid FNAB samples.

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Nicole Bechmann, Mats Leif Moskopp, Martin Ullrich, Bruna Calsina, Pål William Wallace, Susan Richter, Markus Friedemann, Katharina Langton, Stephanie M J Fliedner, Henri J L M Timmers, Svenja Nölting, Felix Beuschlein, Martin Fassnacht, Aleksander Prejbisz, Karel Pacak, Hans K Ghayee, Stefan R Bornstein, Peter Dieterich, Jens Pietzsch, Ben Wielockx, Mercedes Robledo, Nan Qin, and Graeme Eisenhofer

Mutations that drive the stabilization of hypoxia inducible factor 2α (HIF2α) and downstream pseudohypoxic signaling are known to predispose to the development of pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGLs). However, any role of HIF2α in predisposition to metastatic disease remains unclear. To assess such a role we combined gene-manipulations in pheochromocytoma cell lines with retrospective analyses of patient data and gene expression profiling in tumor specimens. Among 425 patients with PPGLs identified with mutations in tumor-susceptibility genes, those with tumors due to activation of pseudohypoxic pathways had a higher frequency of metastatic disease than those with tumors due to activation of kinase-signaling pathways, even without inclusion of patients with mutations in SDHB (18.6% vs 4.3% in, P < 0.0001). Three out of nine (33%) patients with gain-of-function mutations in HIF2α had metastatic disease. In cell line studies, elevated expression of HIF2α enhanced cell proliferation and led to increased migration and invasion capacity. Moreover, HIF2α expression in HIF2α-deficient cells resulted in increased cell motility, diffuse cluster formation and emergence of pseudopodia indicating changes in cell adhesion and cytoskeletal remodeling. In a mouse liver metastasis model, Hif2a enhanced the metastatic load. Transcriptomics data revealed alterations in focal adhesion and extracellular matrix–receptor interactions in HIF2α-mutated PPGLs. Our translational findings demonstrate that HIF2α supports pro-metastatic behavior in PPGLs, though other factors remain critical for subsequent transition to metastasis. We identified LAMB1 and COL4A2 as new potential therapeutic targets for HIF2α-driven PPGLs. Identified HIF2α downstream targets might open a new therapeutic window for aggressive HIF2α-expressing tumors.

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Li Li, Heidi L Weiss, Jing Li, Zhengyi Chen, Leslie Donato, and B Mark Evers

Emerging data supports a potential role of neurotensin (NT) in the development of obesity, obesity-associated comorbidities, and certain cancers. The association of NT with colon cancer risk has not been explicitly explored. We determined plasma levels of pro-NT, a stable NT precursor fragment, in 223 incident colon cancer patients and 223 age-, gender-, BMI-matched population controls participating in a population-based case–control study of colon cancer. On average, the cases have significantly higher levels of pro-NT than the controls (median = 205.6 pmol/L vs 183.1 pmol/L, respectively; P = 0.02). Multivariate logistic regression models, adjusted for age, gender, BMI, family history of colorectal cancer, smoking, diabetes mellitus, alcohol, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs use, show statistically significant risk associations: for continuous measure of pro-NT, the OR estimate was 1.30 (95% CI =1.03–1.64; P = 0.026) for each increment of 175 pmol/L; for dichotomized measure of pro-NT, the OR estimate was 1.75 (95% CI = 1.12–2.74; P = 0.025) for those in the top quartile comparing to the other participants. Our results support circulating levels of pro-NT as a novel risk biomarker for colon cancer.