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Ewan M Stephenson, Laura E J Usselmann, Vinay Tergaonkar, David M Virshup, and Robert Dallmann

Circadian rhythms regulate a vast array of physiological and cellular processes, as well as the hormonal milieu, to keep our cells synchronised to the light–darkness cycle. Epidemiologic studies have implicated circadian disruption in the development of breast and other cancers, and numerous clock genes are dysregulated in human tumours. Here we review the evidence that circadian rhythms, when altered at the molecular level, influence cancer growth. We also note some common pitfalls in circadian-cancer research and how they might be avoided to maximise comparable results and minimise misleading data. Studies of circadian gene mutant mice, and human cancer models in vitro and in vivo, demonstrate that clock genes can impact tumourigenesis. Clock genes influence important cancer-related pathways, ranging from p53-mediated apoptosis to cell cycle progression. Confusingly, clock dysfunction can be both pro- or anti-tumourigenic in a model and cell type-specific manner. Due to this duality, there is no canonical mechanism for clock interaction with tumourigenic pathways. To understand the role of the circadian clock in patients’ tumours requires analysis of the molecular clock status compared to healthy tissue. Novel mathematical approaches are under development, but this remains largely aspirational, and is hampered by a lack of temporal information in publicly available datasets. Current evidence broadly supports the notion that the circadian clock is important for cancer biology. More work is necessary to develop an overarching model of this connection. Future studies would do well to analyse the clock network in addition to alterations in single clock genes.

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Krystallenia I Alexandraki, Ariadni Spyroglou, Stylianos Kykalos, Kosmas Daskalakis, Georgios Kyriakopoulos, Georgios C Sotiropoulos, Gregory A Kaltsas, and Ashley B. Grossman

Following improvements in the management and outcome of neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) in recent years, we see a subset, particularly of pancreatic NENs, which become more aggressive during the course of the disease. This is reflected by an increase in the Ki-67 labelling index, as a marker of proliferation, which may lead on occasion to an increase in grading, but generally does not appear to be correlated with histologically confirmed de-differentiation. A systematic review of the literature was performed in PubMed, Cochrane Library, and Embase until May 2020 to identify cases that have behaved in such a manner. We screened 244 articles: only 7 studies included cases in their cohort, or in a subset of the cohort studied, with a proven increase in the Ki-67 during follow-up through additional biopsy. In addition to these studies, we have also tried to identify possible pathophysiological mechanisms implicated in advanced NENs, although currently no studies appear to have addressed the mechanisms implicated in the switch to a more aggressive biological phenotype over the course of the disease. Such progression of the disease course may demand a change in management. Summarising the evidence overall, we suggest that future studies should concentrate on changes in molecular pathways during disease progression with sequential biopsies in order to shed light on the mechanisms that render a neoplasm more aggressive than its initial phenotype or genotype.

Open access

Isabel Mayayo-Peralta, Wilbert Zwart, and Stefan Prekovic

Glucocorticoid receptor (GR) is a key homeostatic regulator involved in governing immune response, neuro-integration, metabolism and lung function. In conjunction with its pivotal role in human biology, GR action is critically linked to pathology of various disease types, including cancer. While pharmacological activation of GR has been used for treatment of various liquid cancers, its role in solid cancers is less clearly defined and seems to be cancer-type dependent. This review focuses on the molecular aspects of GR biology, spanning the structural and functional basis of response to glucocorticoids, as well as how this transcription factor operates in cancer, including the implications in disease development, progression and drug resistance.

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Pedro Weslley Rosario, Marina Carvalho Souza Côrtes, and Gabriela Franco Mourão

Antithyroglobulin antibodies (TgAb) are present in up to 25% of patients with differentiated thyroid carcinoma on initial postoperative assessment. Detectable concentrations of TgAb even below the manufacturer’s cut-off can interfere with serum thyroglobulin (Tg) determination. When Tg is quantified using an immunometric assay (IMA) (hereafter referred to as Tg-IMA), this interference results in underestimated values of Tg. Although promising, more clinical trials evaluating the capacity of liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry and of new assays to detect elevated Tg in patients with TgAb and structural disease are necessary, particularly when Tg is undetectable by a second-generation IMA (Tg-2GIMA). Neck ultrasonography (US) should be performed in patients submitted to total thyroidectomy and with negative Tg-IMA but with detectable TgAb more than 6 months after initial therapy. In patients treated with 131I, comparison of TgAb concentrations obtained before this treatment is useful to estimate the risk of disease and to guide the investigation. If initial assessment does not reveal any persistent tumor, the repetition of US is recommended while TgAb persist. Significant elevation of TgAb requires extended investigation. On the other hand, patients with negative Tg-IMA and US without abnormalities who exhibit a reduction > 50% in TgAb generally do not require investigation. Although TgAb can interfere with Tg, the management and follow-up of patients submitted to total thyroidectomy with borderline TgAb can probably be the same as those recommended for patients without TgAb if Tg-2GIMA and US indicate an excellent response to therapy. Currently, the presence/absence or the trend of TgAb levels cannot be considered in the follow-up of patients submitted to lobectomy.

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Salma Ben-Salem, Varadha Balaji Venkadakrishnan, and Hannelore V Heemers

The recent genomic characterization of patient specimens has started to reveal the landscape of somatic alterations in clinical prostate cancer (CaP) and its association with disease progression and treatment resistance. The extent to which such alterations impact hallmarks of cancer is still unclear. Here, we interrogate genomic data from thousands of clinical CaP specimens that reflect progression from treatment-naïve, to castration-recurrent, and in some cases, neuroendocrine CaP for alterations in cell cycle-associated and -regulated genes, which are central to cancer initiation and progression. We evaluate gene signatures previously curated to evaluate G1-S and G2-M phase transitions or to represent the cell cycle-dependent proteome. The resulting CaP (stage)-specific overview confirmed the presence of well-known driver alterations impacting for instance the genes encoding p53 and MYC, and uncovered novel previously unrecognized mutations that affect others such as the PKMYT1 and MTBP genes. The cancer dependency and drugability of representative genomically altered cell cycle determinants was verified also. Taken together, these analyses on hundreds of often less-characterized cell cycle regulators expand considerably the scope of genomic alterations associated with CaP cell proliferation and cell cycle, and isolate such regulatory proteins as putative drivers of CaP treatment resistance and entirely novel therapeutic targets for CaP therapy.

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Mark P Labrecque, Joshi J Alumkal, Ilsa M Coleman, Peter S Nelson, and Colm Morrissey

The use of androgen deprivation therapy and second line anti-androgens in prostate cancer has led to the emergence of tumors employing multiple androgen receptor (AR)-dependent and AR-independent mechanisms to resist AR targeted therapies in castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). While the AR signaling axis remains the cornerstone for therapeutic development in CRPC, a clearer understanding of the heterogeneous biology of CRPC tumors is needed for inno-vative treatment strategies. In this review, we discuss the characteristics of CRPC tumors that lack AR activity and the temporal and spatial considerations for the conversion of an AR-dependent to an AR-independent tumor type. We describe the more prevalent treatment-emergent phenotypes aris-ing in the CRPC disease continuum, including amphicrine, AR-low, double-negative, neuroendo-crine and small cell phenotypes. We discuss the association between the loss of AR activity and tumor plasticity with a focus on the roles of transcription factors like SOX2, DNA methylation, alterna-tive splicing, and the activity of epigenetic modifiers like EZH2, BRD4, LSD1, and the nBAF complex in conversion to a neuroendocrine or small cell phenotype in CRPC. We hypothesize that only a subset of CRPC tumors have the propensity for tumor plasticity and conversion to the neuroendo-crine phenotype and outline how we might target these plastic and emergent phenotypes in CRPC. In conclusion, we assess the current and future avenues for treatment and determine that the heter-ogeneity of CRPCs lacking AR activity will require diverse treatment approaches.

Free access

Meng Ji, Yanli Yao, Anan Liu, Ligang Shi, Danlei Chen, Liang Tang, Guang Yang, Xing Liang, Junfeng Peng, and Chenghao Shao

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William Reed Doerfler, Alyaksandr V. Nikitski, Elena M. Morariu, N. Paul Ohori, Simion I Chiosea, Michael S. Landau, Marina Nikiforova, Yuri E Nikiforov, Linwah Yip, and Pooja Manroa

Hürthle cell carcinoma (HCC) is a distinct type of thyroid cancer genetically characterized by DNA copy number alterations (CNA), typically of genome haploidization type (GH-type). However, whether CNA also occur in benign Hürthle cell adenomas (HCA) or Hürthle cell hyperplastic nodules (HCHN), and have diagnostic impact in fine needle aspiration (FNA) samples, remains unknown. To address these questions, we (i) analyzed 26 HCC, 24 HCA, and 8 HCHN tissues for CNA and other mutations using ThyroSeq v3 (TSv3) next-generation sequencing panel, and (ii) determined cancer rate in 111 FNA samples with CNA and known surgical outcome. We identified CNA, more often of the GH-type, in 81% of HCC and in 38% HCA, but not in HCHN. Among 4 HCC with distant metastasis, all had CNA and 3 TERT mutations. Overall, positive TSv3 results were obtained in 24 (92%) HCC, including all with ATA high risk of recurrence or metastasis. Among 111 FNA cases with CNA, 38 (34%) were malignant, and 73 (66%) benign. A significant correlation between cancer rate and nodule size was observed, particularly among cases with GH-type CNA, where every additional centimeter of nodule size increased the malignancy odds by 1.9 (95% CI 1.3-2.7; P=0.001). In summary, the results of this study demonstrate that CNA characteristic of HCC also occur in HCA, although with lower frequency, and probability of cancer in nodules with CNA increases with nodule size. Detection of CNA, in conjunction with other mutations and nodule size, is helpful in predicting malignancy in thyroid nodules.

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Salma Ben-Salem, Varadha Balaji Venkadakrishnan, and Hannelore V Heemers

Prostate cancer (CaP) remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths in western men. These deaths occur because metastatic CaP acquires resistance to available treatments. The novel and functionally diverse treatment options that have been introduced in the clinic over the past decade each eventually induce resistance for which the molecular basis is diverse. Both initiation and progression of CaP have been associated with enhanced cell proliferation and cell cycle dysregulation. A better understanding of the specific pro-proliferative molecular shifts that control cell division and proliferation during CaP progression may ultimately overcome treatment resistance. Here, we examine literature for support of this possibility. We start by reviewing recently renewed insights in prostate cell types and their proliferative and oncogenic potential. We then provide an overview of the basic knowledge on the molecular machinery in charge of cell cycle progression and its regulation by well-recognized drivers of CaP progression such as androgen receptor and retinoblastoma protein. In this respect, we pay particular attention to interactions and reciprocal interplay between cell cycle regulators and androgen receptor. Somatic alterations that impact the cell cycle-associated and -regulated genes encoding p53, PTEN and MYC during progression from treatment-naïve, to castration-recurrent, and in some cases, neuroendocrine CaP are discussed. We considered also non-genomic events that impact cell cycle determinants, including transcriptional, epigenetic and micro-environmental switches that occur during CaP progression. Finally, we evaluate the therapeutic potential of cell cycle regulators, and address challenges and limitations approaches modulating their action, for CaP treatment.

Open access

Adam Stenman, Samuel Backman, Klara Johansson, Johan O. Paulsson, Peter Stalberg, Jan Zedenius, and C. Christofer Juhlin

Pediatric papillary thyroid carcinoma (pPTCs) are often indolent tumors with excellent long-term outcome, although subsets of cases are clinically troublesome and recur. Although generally thought to exhibit similar molecular aberrancies as their counterpart tumors in adults, the pan-genomic landscape of clinically aggressive pPTCs has not been previously described. In this study, five pairs of primary and synchronously metastatic pPTC from patients with high-risk phenotypes were characterized using parallel whole-genome and transcriptome sequencing. Primary tumors and their metastatic components displayed an exceedingly low number of coding somatic mutations and gross chromosomal alterations overall, with surprisingly few shared mutational events. Two cases exhibited one established gene fusion event each (SQSTM1-NTRK3 and NCOA4-RET) in both primary and metastatic tissues, and one case each was positive for a BRAF V600E mutation and a germline truncating CHEK2 mutation respectively. One single case was without apparent driver events and was considered a genetic orphan. Non-coding mutations in cancer-associated regions were generally not present. By expressional analyses, fusion-driven primary and metastatic pPTC clustered separately from the mutation-driven cases and the sole genetic orphan. We conclude that pPTCs are genetically indolent tumors with exceedingly stable genomes. Several mutations found exclusively in the metastatic samples may represent novel genetic events that drive the metastatic behavior, and the differences in mutational compositions suggest early clonal divergence between primary tumors and metastases. Moreover, an overrepresentation of mutational and expressional dysregulation of immune regulatory pathways was noted among fusion-positive pPTC metastases, suggesting that these tumors might facilitate spread through immune evasive mechanisms.