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Free access

Thomas G Papathomas, Lindsey Oudijk, Ellen C Zwarthoff, Edward Post, Floor A Duijkers, Max M van Noesel, Leo J Hofland, Patrick J Pollard, Eamonn R Maher, David F Restuccia, Richard A Feelders, Gaston J H Franssen, Henri J Timmers, Stefan Sleijfer, Wouter W de Herder, Ronald R de Krijger, Winand N M Dinjens, and Esther Korpershoek

Hotspot mutations in the promoter of the telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) gene have been recently reported in human cancers and proposed as a novel mechanism of telomerase activation. To explore TERT promoter mutations in tumors originating from the adrenal gland and extra-adrenal paraganglia, a set of 253 tumors (38 adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs), 127 pheochromocytomas (PCCs), 18 extra-adrenal paragangliomas (ea PGLs), 37 head and neck PGLs (HN PGLs), and 33 peripheral neuroblastic tumors) was selected along with 16 human neuroblastoma (NBL) and two ACC cell lines to assess TERT promoter mutations by the Sanger sequencing method. All mutations detected were confirmed by a SNaPshot assay. Additionally, 36 gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) were added to explore an association between TERT promoter mutations and SDH deficiency. TERT promoter mutations were found in seven out of 289 tumors and in three out of 18 human cell lines; four C228T mutations in 38 ACCs (10.5%), two C228T mutations in 18 ea PGLs (11.1%), one C250T mutation in 36 GISTs (2.8%), and three C228T mutations in 16 human NBL cell lines (18.75%). No mutation was detected in PCCs, HN PGLs, neuroblastic tumors as well as ACC cell lines. TERT promoter mutations preferentially occurred in a SDH-deficient setting (P=0.01) being present in three out of 47 (6.4%) SDH-deficient tumors vs zero out of 171 (0%) SDH-intact tumors. We conclude that TERT promoter mutations occur in ACCs and ea PGLs. In addition, preliminary evidence indicates a potential association with the acquisition of TERT promoter mutations in SDH-deficient tumors.

Open access

Milena Doroszko, Marcin Chrusciel, Joanna Stelmaszewska, Tomasz Slezak, Slawomir Anisimowicz, Ursula Plöckinger, Marcus Quinkler, Marco Bonomi, Slawomir Wolczynski, Ilpo Huhtaniemi, Jorma Toppari, and Nafis A Rahman

Aberrantly expressed G protein-coupled receptors in tumors are considered as potential therapeutic targets. We analyzed the expressions of receptors of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GNRHR), luteinizing hormone/chorionic gonadotropin (LHCGR) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSHR) in human adrenocortical carcinomas and assessed their response to GnRH antagonist therapy. We further studied the effects of the GnRH antagonist cetrorelix acetate (CTX) on cultured adrenocortical tumor (ACT) cells (mouse Cα1 and Y-1, and human H295R), and in vivo in transgenic mice (SV40 T-antigen expression under inhibin α promoter) bearing Lhcgr and Gnrhr in ACT. Both models were treated with control (CT), CTX, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) or CTX+hCG, and their growth and transcriptional changes were analyzed. In situ hybridization and qPCR analysis of human adrenocortical carcinomas (n = 11–13) showed expression of GNRHR in 54/73%, LHCGR in 77/100% and FSHR in 0%, respectively. CTX treatment in vitro decreased cell viability and proliferation, and increased caspase 3/7 activity in all treated cells. In vivo, CTX and CTX+hCG (but not hCG alone) decreased ACT weights and serum LH and progesterone concentrations. CTX treatment downregulated the tumor markers Lhcgr and Gata4. Upregulated genes included Grb10, Rerg, Nfatc and Gnas, all recently found to be abundantly expressed in healthy adrenal vs ACT. Our data suggest that CTX treatment may improve the therapy of human adrenocortical carcinomas by direct action on GNRHR-positive cancer cells inducing apoptosis and/or reducing gonadotropin release, directing tumor cells towards a healthy adrenal gene expression profile.

Free access

S G Creemers, P M van Koetsveld, W W De Herder, F Dogan, G J H Franssen, R A Feelders, and L J Hofland

Chemotherapy for adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) has limited efficacy and is accompanied by severe toxicity. This lack of effectiveness has been associated with high tumoral levels of the multidrug resistance (MDR) pump P-glycoprotein (P-gp), encoded by the MDR1 gene. In this study, effects of P-gp inhibition on the sensitivity of ACC cells to cytotoxic drugs were evaluated. MDR1 mRNA and P-gp expression were determined in human adrenal tissues and cell lines. H295R, HAC15 and SW13 cells were treated with mitotane, doxorubicin, etoposide, cisplatin and streptozotocin, with or without the P-gp inhibitors verapamil and tariquidar. Cell growth and surviving fraction of colonies were assessed. MDR1 mRNA and P-gp protein expression were lower in ACCs than in adrenocortical adenomas (P < 0.0001; P < 0.01, respectively). MDR1 and P-gp expression were positively correlated in ACC (P < 0.0001, ρ = 0.723). Mitotane, doxorubicin, cisplatin and etoposide dose dependently inhibited cell growth in H295R, HAC15 and SW13. Tariquidar, and in H295R also verapamil, increased the response of HAC15 and H295R to doxorubicin (6.3- and 7.5-fold EC50 decrease in H295R, respectively; all P < 0.0001). Sensitivity to etoposide was increased in H295R and HAC15 by verapamil and tariquidar (all P < 0.0001). Findings were confirmed when assessing colony formation. We show that cytotoxic drugs, except streptozotocin, used for ACC treatment, inhibit ACC cell growth and colony formation at clinically achievable concentrations. P-gp inhibition increases sensitivity to doxorubicin and etoposide, suggesting that MDR1 is involved in sensitivity to these drugs and could be a potential target for cytotoxic treatment improvement in ACC.

Free access

P S H Soon, A J Gill, D E Benn, A Clarkson, B G Robinson, K L McDonald, and S B Sidhu

The management of adrenocortical tumors (ACTs) is complex. The Weiss score is the present most widely used system for ACT diagnosis. An ACT is scored from 0 to 9, with a higher score correlating with increased malignancy. However, ACTs with a score of 3 can be phenotypically benign or malignant. Our objective is to use microarray profiling of a cohort of adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs) and adrenocortical adenomas (ACAs) to identify discriminatory genes that could be used as an adjunct to the Weiss score. A cohort of Weiss score defined ACCs and ACAs were profiled using Affymetrix HGU133plus2.0 genechips. Genes with high-discriminatory power were identified by univariate and multivariate analyses and confirmed by quantitative real-time reverse transcription PCR and immunohistochemistry (IHC). The expression of IGF2, MAD2L1, and CCNB1 were significantly higher in ACCs compared with ACAs while ABLIM1, NAV3, SEPT4, and RPRM were significantly lower. Several proteins, including IGF2, MAD2L1, CCNB1, and Ki-67 had high-diagnostic accuracy in differentiating ACCs from ACAs. The best results, however, were obtained with a combination of IGF2 and Ki-67, with 96% sensitivity and 100% specificity in diagnosing ACCs. Microarray gene expression profiling accurately differentiates ACCs from ACAs. The combination of IGF2 and Ki-67 IHC is also highly accurate in distinguishing between the two groups and is particularly helpful in ACTs with Weiss score of 3.

Open access

Deniz M Özata, Stefano Caramuta, David Velázquez-Fernández, Pinar Akçakaya, Hong Xie, Anders Höög, Jan Zedenius, Martin Bäckdahl, Catharina Larsson, and Weng-Onn Lui

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is an aggressive tumor showing frequent metastatic spread and poor survival. Although recent genome-wide studies of ACC have contributed to our understanding of the disease, major challenges remain for both diagnostic and prognostic assessments. The aim of this study was to identify specific microRNAs (miRNAs) associated with malignancy and survival of ACC patients. miRNA expression profiles were determined in a series of ACC, adenoma, and normal cortices using microarray. A subset of miRNAs showed distinct expression patterns in the ACC compared with adrenal cortices and adenomas. Among others, miR-483-3p, miR-483-5p, miR-210, and miR-21 were found overexpressed, while miR-195, miR-497, and miR-1974 were underexpressed in ACC. Inhibition of miR-483-3p or miR-483-5p and overexpression of miR-195 or miR-497 reduced cell proliferation in human NCI-H295R ACC cells. In addition, downregulation of miR-483-3p, but not miR-483-5p, and increased expression of miR-195 or miR-497 led to significant induction of cell death. Protein expression of p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis (PUMA), a potential target of miR-483-3p, was significantly decreased in ACC, and inversely correlated with miR-483-3p expression. In addition, high expression of miR-503, miR-1202, and miR-1275 were found significantly associated with shorter overall survival among patients with ACC (P values: 0.006, 0.005, and 0.042 respectively). In summary, we identified additional miRNAs associated with ACC, elucidated the functional role of four miRNAs in the pathogenesis of ACC cells, demonstrated the potential involvement of the pro-apoptotic factor PUMA (a miR-483-3p target) in adrenocortical tumors, and found novel miRNAs associated with survival in ACC.

Restricted access

S G Creemers, R A Feelders, N Valdes, C L Ronchi, M Volante, B M van Hemel, M Luconi, M H T Ettaieb, M Mannelli, M D Chiara, M Fassnacht, M Papotti, M N Kerstens, G Nesi, H R Haak, F J van Kemenade, and L J Hofland

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is diagnosed using the histopathological Weiss score (WS), but remains clinically elusive unless it has metastasized or grows locally invasive. Previously, we proposed the objective IGF2 methylation score as diagnostic tool for ACC. This multicenter European cohort study validates these findings. Patient and tumor characteristics were obtained from adrenocortical tumor patients. DNA was isolated from frozen specimens, where after DMR2, CTCF3, and H19 were pyrosequenced. The predictive value of the methylation score for malignancy, defined by the WS or metastasis development, was assessed using receiver operating characteristic curves and logistic and Cox regression analyses. Seventy-six ACC patients and 118 patients with adrenocortical adenomas were included from seven centers. The methylation score and tumor size were independently associated with the pathological ACC diagnosis (OR 3.756 95% CI 2.224–6.343; OR 1.467 95% CI 1.202–1.792, respectively; Hosmer–Lemeshow test P = 0.903), with an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.957 (95% CI 0.930–0.984). The methylation score alone resulted in an AUC of 0.910 (95% CI 0.866–0.952). Cox regression analysis revealed that the methylation score, WS and tumor size predicted development of metastases in univariate analysis. In multivariate analysis, only the WS predicted development of metastasis (OR 1.682 95% CI 1.285–2.202; P < 0.001). In conclusion, we validated the high diagnostic accuracy of the IGF2 methylation score for diagnosing ACC in a multicenter European cohort study. Considering the known limitations of the WS, the objective IGF2 methylation score could potentially provide extra guidance on decisions on postoperative strategies in adrenocortical tumor patients.

Open access

Helene Myrtue Nielsen, Alexandre How-Kit, Carole Guerin, Frederic Castinetti, Hans Kristian Moen Vollan, Catherine De Micco, Antoine Daunay, David Taieb, Peter Van Loo, Celine Besse, Vessela N Kristensen, Lise Lotte Hansen, Anne Barlier, Frederic Sebag, and Jörg Tost

Overexpression of insulin growth factor 2 (IGF2) is a hallmark of adrenocortical carcinomas and pheochromocytomas. Previous studies investigating the IGF2/H19 locus have mainly focused on a single molecular level such as genomic alterations or altered DNA methylation levels and the causal changes underlying IGF2 overexpression are still not fully established. In the current study, we analyzed 62 tumors of the adrenal gland from patients with Conn's adenoma (CA, n=12), pheochromocytomas (PCC, n=10), adrenocortical benign tumors (ACBT, n=20), and adrenocortical carcinomas (ACC, n=20). Gene expression, somatic copy number variation of chr11p15.5, and DNA methylation status of three differential methylated regions of the IGF2/H19 locus including the H19 imprinting control region were integratively analyzed. IGF2 overexpression was found in 85% of the ACCs and 100% of the PCCs compared to 23% observed in CAs and ACBTs. Copy number aberrations of chr11p15.5 were abundant in both PCCs and ACCs but while PCCs retained a diploid state, ACCs were frequently tetraploid (7/19). Loss of either a single allele or loss of two alleles of the same parental origin in tetraploid samples resulted in a uniparental disomy-like genotype. These copy number changes correlated with hypermethylation of the H19 ICR suggesting that the lost alleles were the unmethylated maternal alleles. Our data provide conclusive evidence that loss of the maternal allele correlates with IGF2 overexpression in adrenal tumors and that hypermethylation of the H19 ICR is a consequence thereof.

Free access

D E Schteingart, G M Doherty, P G Gauger, T J Giordano, G D Hammer, M Korobkin, and F P Worden

Adrenocortical carcinomas are rare, highly malignant tumors that account for only 0.2% of deaths due to cancer. Given the limited number of patients seen in most medical centers with this diagnosis, series usually reported are small and clinical trials not randomized or blinded. In an attempt to answer important questions concerning the management of patients with adrenal cancer, a consensus conference was organized and held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI, 11–13 September 2003, with the participation of an international group of physicians who had reported on the largest series of patients with this disease and who had recognized basic and clinical research expertise in adrenal cortical cancer. Totally 43 questions were addressed by the presenters and recommendations discussed in plenary and breakout sessions. Evidence for the recommendations of this conference was at the 2–4+ level and based on available literature and participants’ experience.

In addition to setting up guidelines in specific areas of the diagnosis and treatment of adrenal cancer, the conference recommended and initiated the planning of an international prospective trial for treatment of patients with adrenal cancer in stages III and IV. In terms of new therapies, first trials of dendritic cell therapy in human subjects with adrenal cancer have been started, but it is too early to comment on efficacy. Different strategies of immunotherapy, including DNA vaccination are currently being tried in animal models. There are no clinical gene therapy trials for human adrenal cortical cancer. The adrenals are a preferred target for adenovirus and the results of gene therapy in preclinical studies are promising. In addition, there is evidence that histone deacetylase inhibitors can further enhance the rate of adenoviral infectivity in human adrenal cancer cells. Testing of retroviral vectors, non-viral vectors, small interfering RNA technology, and combined approaches could be performed in various laboratories. Anti-angiogenic substances have only been applied in preclinical studies. The use of these and other agents in the treatment of adrenal cancer should be hypothesis-driven and based on a thorough analysis of tumor biology.

Free access

Cristina L Ronchi, Silviu Sbiera, Barbara Altieri, Sonja Steinhauer, Vanessa Wild, Michaela Bekteshi, Matthias Kroiss, Martin Fassnacht, and Bruno Allolio

Previous SNP array analyses have revealed genomic alterations of the Notch pathway as being the most frequent abnormality in adrenocortical tumors (ACTs). The aim of the present study was to evaluate the expression of components of Notch signaling in ACTs and to correlate them with clinical outcome. The mRNA expression of JAG1, NOTCH1, and selected target genes of NOTCH1 (HES1, HES5, and HEY2) was evaluated in 80 fresh frozen samples (28 normal adrenal glands (NAGs), 24 adenomas (ACAs), and 28 carcinomas (ACCs)) by quantitative RT-PCR. Immunohistochemistry was performed in 221 tissues on paraffin slides (16 NAGs, 27 ACAs, and 178 ACCs) for JAG1, activated NOTCH1 (aNOTCH1), and HEY2. An independent ACC validation cohort (n=77) was then also investigated. HEY2 mRNA expression was higher in ACCs than it was in ACAs (P<0.05). The protein expression of all of the factors was high (H-score 2–3) in a larger proportion of ACCs as compared to ACAs and NAGs (JAG1 in 27, 15, and 10%; aNOTCH1 in 13, 8, and 0%; HEY2 in 66, 61, and 33% respectively, all P<0.001). High JAG1 expression was associated with earlier tumor stages and lower numbers of metastases in ACCs (both P=0.08) and favorably impacted overall and progression-free survival (PFS) (131 vs 30 months, hazard ratio (HR) 0.45, and 37 vs 9 months, HR 0.51, both P<0.005). This impact on overall survival (OS) was confirmed in the validation cohort. No such association was observed for aNOTCH1 or HEY2. In conclusion, different components of the Notch1 signaling pathway are overexpressed in ACCs, which suggests a role for the pathway in malignant transformation. However, JAG1 is overexpressed in a subgroup of ACCs with a better clinical outcome.

Free access

A Falchetti and M L Brandi

Multiple Endocrine Neoplasias type 1 (MEN 1) and type 2 (MEN 2) represent complex inherited (autosomal dominant traits) syndromes characterized by occurrence of distinct proliferative disorders of endocrine tissues, varying from hyperplasia to adenoma and carcinoma.

MEN 1 syndrome is characterized by parathyroid gland, anterior pituitary and endocrine pancreas tumors. Other endocrine and non endocrine tumors, such as carcinoids, lipomas, pinealomas, adrenocortical and thyroid follicular tumors, have been also described in MEN 1 patients occurring at higher frequency than in general population (Brandi ML et al. 1987). Recently also a spinal ependymoma has been found in a patient with MEN 1 syndrome (Kato H et al 1997)

MEN 2 syndromes recognize three main clinical entities, MEN 2A, characterized by medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC), primary hyperparathyroidism (PHPT) and pheochromocytoma (PHEO); MEN 2B that exhibits MTC, usually developing sooner than the MEN 2A- associated one, pheochromocytoma, multiple neuromas of gastroenteric mucosa, myelinated corneal nerves (Gorlin RJ et al. 1968) and a typical marphanoid habitus; and familial medullary thyroid carcinoma only (FMTC) featuring by families with at least four members with MTC and no objective evidence of pheochromocytoma and parathyroid disease on screening of affected and at-risk members, as stated by the International RET Mutation Consortium (Larsson C et al. 1994).


This work was supported by grants of the Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro (to MLB), from CNR/PF ACRO (INV. 95.00316 PF 39) and by MURST 60% (to MLB).