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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.

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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-1 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.

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Matthew D Ringel

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Simon Faillot, Thomas Foulonneau, Mario Néou, Stéphanie Espiard, Simon Garinet, Anna Vaczlavik, Anne Jouinot, Windy Rondof, Amandine Septier, Ludivine Drougat, Karine Hécale-Perlemoine, Bruno Ragazzon, Marthe Rizk-Rabin, Mathilde Sibony, Fidéline Bonnet-Serrano, Jean Guibourdenche, Rosella Libé, Lionel Groussin, Bertrand Dousset, Aurélien de Reyniès, Jérôme Bertherat, and Guillaume Assié

Benign adrenal tumors cover a spectrum of lesions with distinct morphology and steroid secretion. Current classification is empirical. Beyond a few driver mutations, pathophysiology is not well understood. Here, a pangenomic characterization of benign adrenocortical tumors is proposed, aiming at unbiased classification and new pathophysiological insights. Benign adrenocortical tumors (n = 146) were analyzed by transcriptome, methylome, miRNome, chromosomal alterations and mutational status, using expression arrays, methylation arrays, miRNA sequencing, SNP arrays, and exome or targeted next-generation sequencing respectively. Pathological and hormonal data were collected for all tumors. Pangenomic analysis identifies four distinct molecular categories: (1) tumors responsible for overt Cushing, gathering distinct tumor types, sharing a common cAMP/PKA pathway activation by distinct mechanisms; (2) adenomas with mild autonomous cortisol excess and non-functioning adenomas, associated with beta-catenin mutations; (3) primary macronodular hyperplasia with ARMC5 mutations, showing an ovarian expression signature; (4) aldosterone-producing adrenocortical adenomas, apart from other benign tumors. Epigenetic alterations and steroidogenesis seem associated, including CpG island hypomethylation in tumors with no or mild cortisol secretion, miRNA patterns defining specific molecular groups, and direct regulation of steroidogenic enzyme expression by methylation. Chromosomal alterations and somatic mutations are subclonal, found in less than 2/3 of cells. New pathophysiological insights, including distinct molecular signatures supporting the difference between mild autonomous cortisol excess and overt Cushing, ARMC5 implication into the adreno-gonadal differentiation faith, and the subclonal nature of driver alterations in benign tumors, will orient future research. This first genomic classification provides a large amount of data as a starting point.

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Corinne Gérard, Marie Lagarde, Flora Poizat, Sandrine Oziel-Taieb, Vincent Garcia, Catherine Roche, Patricia Niccoli, Anne Barlier, and David Romano

Although there is evidence of a significant rise of neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) incidence, current treatments are largely insufficient due to somewhat poor knowledge of these tumours. Despite showing differentiated features, NENs exhibit therapeutic resistance to most common treatments, similar to other cancers in many instances. Molecular mechanisms responsible for this resistance phenomenon are badly understood. We aimed at identifying signalling partners responsible of acquired resistance to treatments in order to develop novel therapeutic strategies. We engineered QGP-1 cells resistant to current leading treatments, the chemotherapeutic agent oxaliplatin and the mTor inhibitor everolimus. Cells were chronically exposed to the drugs and assessed for acquired resistance by viability assay. We used microarray-based kinomics to obtain highthroughput kinase activity profiles from drug sensitive vs resistant cells and identified ‘hit’ kinases hyperactivated in drug-resistant cells, including kinases from FGFR family, cyclin-dependant kinases and PKCs in oxaliplatin-resistant (R-Ox) QGP-1 cells. We then validated these ‘hit’ kinases and observed that ERK signalling is specifically enhanced in QGP-1 R-Ox cells. Finally, we assessed drug-resistant cells sensitivity to pharmacological inhibition of ‘hit’ kinases or their signalling partners. We found that FGFR inhibition markedly decreased ERK signalling and cell viability in QGP-1 R-Ox cells. These results suggest that the FGFR/ERK axis is hyperactivated in response to oxaliplatin-based chemotherapeutic strategy. Thus, this sensitive approach, based on the study of kinome activity, allows identifying potential candidates involved in drug resistance in NENs and may be used to broadly investigate markers of NENs therapeutic response.

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Clotilde Sparano, Yann Godbert, Marie Attard, Christine Do Cao, Slimane Zerdoud, Nathalie Roudaut, Charlotte Joly, Amandine Berdelou, Julien Hadoux, Livia Lamartina, Martin Schlumberger, and Sophie Leboulleux

Anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) is a rare lethal disease. Lenvatinib is an off-label therapeutic option for ATC in most countries, except in Japan. The aim of this multicenter retrospective survey was to analyze the efficacy and the toxicity profile of off-label lenvatinib treatment in all adults advanced ATC patients, in France. Of the 23 patients analysed (14 males; mean age 64 years), 15 were pure ATC and 8 were mixed tumors (i.e. with a differentiated or poorly differentiated component). Prior treatments included neck external beam irradiation in 74%, at least one line of chemotherapy in 22 cases, two lines of chemotherapy in 11 patients, other TKI in 4 cases. A central RECIST assessment was performed. Since lenvatinib initiation, median PFS was 2.7 months (95% CI; 1.9–3.5) and median OS was 3.1 months (95% CI; 0.6–5.5). OS was significantly longer in case of mixed tumors compared with pure ATC (6.3 vs 2.7 months, P = 0.026). Best tumor response was partial response in two cases and stable disease in seven. Clinical improvement was achieved in seven patients. Lethal adverse events occurred in three patients, consisting in haemoptysis in two cases and pneumothorax in one case. Among long-surviving ATC patients (>6 months), four underwent biopsy of distant metastasis, revealing poorly differentiated histology; three of them had initial mixed ATC histology. Efficacy of lenvatinib appears limited, although pure vs mixed ATC disclose differences in disease aggressiveness and treatment response. Long-surviving ATC patients might benefit from biopsy of persistent disease, searching for histological transition or molecular target.

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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

Abstract

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.