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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.

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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.

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Julie Refardt, Wouter T Zandee, Tessa Brabander, Richard A Feelders, Gaston J H Franssen, Leo J Hofland, Emanuel Christ, Wouter W de Herder, and Johannes Hofland

Sufficient expression of somatostatin receptor (SSTR) in well-differentiated neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) is crucial for treatment with somatostatin analogs (SSAs) and peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) using radiolabeled SSAs. Impaired prognosis has been described for SSTR-negative NET patients; however, studies comparing matched SSTR-positive and -negative subjects who have not received PRRT are missing. This retrospective analysis of two prospectively maintained NET databases aimed to compare matched metastatic grade 1 or 2 SSTR-positive and –negative NET patients. SSTR-negativity was defined as having insufficient tumor uptake on diagnostic SSTR imaging. Patients that underwent PRRT were excluded. Seventy-seven SSTR-negative and 248 SSTR-positive grade 1–2 NET patients were included. Median overall survival rates were significantly lower for SSTR-negative compared to SSTR-positive NET patients (53 months vs 131 months; P < 0.001). To adjust for possible confounding by age, gender, grade and site of origin, 69 SSTR-negative NET patients were propensity score matched to 69 SSTR-positive NET patients. Group characteristics were similar, with the exception of SSTR-negative patients receiving more often chemotherapy and targeted treatment. The inferior survival outcome of SSTR-negative compared to SSTR-positive NET patients persisted with a median overall survival of 38 months vs 131 months (P = 0.012). This relationship upheld when correcting for the main influencing factors of having a higher grade tumor or receiving surgery in a multivariate Cox regression analysis. In conclusion, we showed that propensity score-matched SSTR-negative NET patients continue to have a worse prognosis compared to SSTR-positive NET patients despite receiving more aggressive treatment. Differences in tumor biology likely underlie this survival deficit.

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Atsuko Kasajima and Günter Klöppel

The bronchopulmonary (BP) and gastroenteropancreatic (GEP) organ systems harbor the majority of the neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) of the body, comprising 20 and 70% of all NENs, respectively. Common to both NEN groups is a classification distinguishing between well- and poorly differentiated NENs associated with distinct genetic profiles. Differences between the two groups concern the reciprocal prevalence of well and poorly differentiated neoplasms, the application of a Ki67-based grading, the variety of histological patterns, the diversity of hormone expression and associated syndromes, the variable involvement in hereditary tumor syndromes, and the peculiarities of genetic changes. This review focuses on a detailed comparison of BP-NENs with GEP-NENs with the aim of highlighting and discussing the most obvious differences. Despite obvious differences, the principle therapeutical options are still the same for both NEN groups, but with further progress in genetics, more targeted therapy strategies can be expected in future.

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Stephanie Espiard, Ludivine Drougat, Nikolaos Settas, Sara Haydar, Kerstin Bathon, Edra London, Isaac Levy, Fabio R Faucz, Davide Calebiro, Jérôme Bertherat, Dong Li, Michael A Levine, and Constantine A Stratakis

Genetic variants in components of the protein kinase A (PKA) enzyme have been associated with various defects and neoplasms in the context of Carney complex (CNC) and in isolated cases, such as in primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD), cortisol-producing adrenal adenomas (CPAs), and various cancers. PRKAR1A mutations have been found in subjects with impaired cAMP-dependent signaling and skeletal defects; bone tumors also develop in both humans and mice with PKA abnormalities. We studied the PRKACB gene in 148 subjects with PPNAD and related disorders, who did not have other PKA-related defects and identified two subjects with possibly pathogenic PRKACB gene variants and unusual bone and endocrine phenotypes. The first presented with bone and other abnormalities and carried a de novo c.858_860GAA (p.K286del) variant. The second subject carried the c.899C>T (p.T300M or p.T347M in another isoform) variant and had a PPNAD-like phenotype. Both variants are highly conserved in the PRKACB gene. In functional studies, the p.K286del variant affected PRKACB protein stability and led to increased PKA signaling. The p.T300M variant did not affect protein stability or response to cAMP and its pathogenicity remains uncertain. We conclude that PRKACB germline variants are uncommon but may be associated with phenotypes that resemble those of other PKA-related defects. However, detailed investigation of each variant is needed as PRKACB appears to be only rarely affected in these conditions, and variants such as p.T300M maybe proven to be clinically insignificant, whereas others (such as p.K286del) are clearly pathogenic and may be responsible for a novel syndrome, associated with endocrine and skeletal abnormalities.

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Venessa H M Tsang, Matti Gild, Anthony Glover, Roderick Clifton-Bligh, and Bruce G Robinson

COVID-19 has modified the way we practice medicine. For thyroid cancer, there have been several significant impacts. First, the diagnosis has been delayed due to social isolation, reduced access to investigations and staff redeployment. Secondly, treatment planning has needed to take into account the risk to patients and/or staff of nosocomial transmission of the virus. Finally, there are some specific concerns with respect to interactions between the virus, its treatments and cancer. This mini-review aims to address each of these impacts and to provide some guidance and confidence to our patients and colleagues during this challenging time.

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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 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 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 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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Kiran Nadella, Fabio R Faucz, and Constantine A Stratakis

Protein kinase A (PKA) regulatory subunit type 1A (PRKAR1A) defects lead to primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD). The KIT protooncogene (c-KIT) is not known to be expressed in the normal adrenal cortex (AC). In this study, we investigated the expression of c-KIT and its ligand, stem cell factor (SCF), in PPNAD and other cortisol-producing tumors of the adrenal cortex. mRNA and protein expression, by qRT-PCR, immunohistochemistry (IHC) and immunoblotting (IB), respectively, were studied. We then tested c-KIT and SCF responses to PRKAR1A introduction and PKA stimulation in adrenocortical cell lines CAR47 and H295R, which were also treated with the KIT inhibitor, imatinib mesylate (IM). Mice xenografted with H295R cells were treated with IM. There was increased c-KIT mRNA expression in PPNAD; IHC showed KIT and SCF immunoreactivity within certain nodular areas in PPNAD. IB data was consistent with IHC and mRNA data. PRKAR1A-deficient CAR47 cells expressed c-KIT; this was enhanced by forskolin and lowered by PRKAR1A reintroduction. Knockdown of PKA’s catalytic subunit (PRKACA) by siRNA reduced c-KIT levels. Treatment of the CAR47 cells with IM resulted in reduced cell viability, growth arrest, and apoptosis. Treatment with IM of mice xenografted with H295 cells inhibited further tumor growth. We conclude that c-KIT is expressed in PPNAD, an expression that appears to be dependent on PRKAR1A and/or PKA activity. In a human adrenocortical cell line and its xenografts in mice, c-KIT inhibition decreased growth, suggesting that c-KIT inhibitors may be a reasonable alternative therapy to be tested in PPNAD, when other treatments are not optimal.

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Louis de Mestier, Anne Couvelard, Anela Blazevic, Olivia Hentic, Wouter W de Herder, Vinciane Rebours, Valérie Paradis, Philippe Ruszniewski, Leo J Hofland, and Jérôme Cros

The efficacy of alkylating agents (temozolomide, dacarbazine, streptozotocin) in patients with advanced neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) has been well documented, especially in pancreatic NETs. Alkylating agents transfer methyl adducts on DNA bases. Among them, O6-methylguanine accounts for many of their cytotoxic effects and can be repaired by the O6-methylguanine-methyltransferase (MGMT). However, whether the tumor MGMT status could be a reliable biomarker of efficacy of alkylating agents in NETs is still a matter of debate. Herein, we sought to provide a critical appraisal of the role of the MGMT status in NETs. After reviewing the molecular mechanisms of repair of DNA damage induced by alkylating agents, we aimed to comprehensively review the methods of determination of the MGMT status and its impact on prognosis, prediction of objective response and progression-free survival in patients with advanced digestive NETs treated by alkylating agents. About half of pancreatic NETs are MGMT-deficient, as determined by impaired tumor MGMT expression or by MGMT promoter methylation. Overall, while published studies are heterogeneous and mostly limited in size, they advocate that MGMT deficiency may be a relevant biomarker for increased objective response rate, prolonged progression-fee survival and overall survival in patients with advanced NETs treated by alkylating agents. While these data require confirmation in prospective controlled studies, future research should focus on the standardization of MGMT status assessment. Additional mechanisms of repair of DNA damages induced by alkylating agents should be explored in order to identify biomarkers complementary to MGMT and targets for potential antitumor synergy, such as PARP.