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Free access

Paola Sperone, Anna Ferrero, Fulvia Daffara, Adriano Priola, Barbara Zaggia, Marco Volante, Daniele Santini, Bruno Vincenzi, Giuseppe Badalamenti, Chiara Intrivici, Sabrina Del Buono, Silvia De Francia, Emmanouil Kalomirakis, Riccardo Ratti, Alberto Angeli, Luigi Dogliotti, Mauro Papotti, Massimo Terzolo, and Alfredo Berruti

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare neoplasm characterized by poor prognosis. First-line systemic treatments in advanced disease include mitotane, either alone or in combination with chemotherapy. Studies evaluating second-line therapy options have obtained disappointing results. This trial assessed the activity and toxicity of gemcitabine plus metronomic fluoropyrimidines in heavily pretreated advanced ACC patients. From 1998 to 2008, 28 patients with advanced ACC progressing after mitotane plus one or two systemic chemotherapy lines were enrolled. They received a combination of i.v. gemcitabine (800 mg/m2, on days 1 and 8, every 21 days) and i.v. 5-fluorouracil protracted infusion (200 mg/m2/daily without interruption until progression) in the first six patients, or oral capecitabine (1500 mg/daily) in the subsequent patients. Mitotane administration was maintained in all cases. The rate of non-progressing patients after 4 months of treatment was 46.3%. A complete response was observed in 1 patient (3.5%); 1 patient (3.5%) obtained a partial regression, 11 patients (39.3%) obtained a disease stabilization and 15 patients (53.7%) progressed. Treatment was well tolerated, with grade III and IV toxicities consisting of leukopenia in six patients (21.4%), thrombocytopenia in one patient (3.5%), and mucositis in one patient (3.5%). Median time to progression and overall survival in the patient population were 5.3 (range: 1–43) and 9.8 months (range: 3–73) respectively. Gemcitabine plus metronomic fluoropyrimidines is a well-tolerated and moderately active regimen in heavily pretreated ACC patients.

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.

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

Fidéline Bonnet-Serrano and Jérôme Bertherat

This review describes the molecular alterations observed in the various types of tumors of the adrenal cortex, excluding Conn adenomas, especially the alterations identified by genomic approaches these last five years. Two main forms of bilateral adrenocortical tumors can be distinguished according to size and aspect of the nodules: primary pigmented nodular adrenal disease (PPNAD), which can be sporadic or part of Carney complex and primary bilateral macro nodular adrenal hyperplasia (PBMAH). The bilateral nature of the tumors suggests the existence of an underlying genetic predisposition. PPNAD and Carney complex are mainly due to germline-inactivating mutations of PRKAR1A, coding for a regulatory subunit of PKA, whereas PBMAH genetic seems more complex. However, genome-wide approaches allowed the identification of a new tumor suppressor gene, ARMC5, whose germline alteration could be responsible for at least 25% of PBMAH cases. Unilateral adrenocortical tumors are more frequent, mostly adenomas. The Wnt/beta-catenin pathway can be activated in both benign and malignant tumors by CTNNB1 mutations and by ZNRF3 inactivation in adrenal cancer (ACC). Some other signaling pathways are more specific of the tumor dignity. Thus, somatic mutations of cAMP/PKA pathway genes, mainly PRKACA, coding for the catalytic alpha-subunit of PKA, are found in cortisol-secreting adenomas, whereas IGF-II overexpression and alterations of p53 signaling pathway are observed in ACC. Genome-wide approaches including transcriptome, SNP, methylome and miRome analysis have identified new genetic and epigenetic alterations and the further clustering of ACC in subgroups associated with different prognosis, allowing the development of new prognosis markers.

Restricted access

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.

Free access

Katja Kiseljak-Vassiliades, Yu Zhang, Stacey M Bagby, Adwitiya Kar, Nikita Pozdeyev, Mei Xu, Katherine Gowan, Vibha Sharma, Christopher D Raeburn, Maria Albuja-Cruz, Kenneth L Jones, Lauren Fishbein, Rebecca E Schweppe, Hilary Somerset, Todd M Pitts, Stephen Leong, and Margaret E Wierman

Adrenocortical cancer (ACC) is an orphan malignancy that results in heterogeneous clinical phenotypes and molecular genotypes. There are no curative treatments for this deadly cancer with 35% survival at five years. Our understanding of the underlying pathobiology and our ability to test novel therapeutic targets has been limited due to the lack of preclinical models. Here, we report the establishment of two new ACC cell lines and corresponding patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models. CU-ACC1 cell line and PDX were derived from a perinephric metastasis in a patient whose primary tumor secreted aldosterone. CU-ACC2 cell line and PDX were derived from a liver metastasis in a patient with Lynch syndrome. Short tandem repeat profiling confirmed consistent matches between human samples and models. Both exomic and RNA sequencing profiling were performed on the patient samples and the models, and hormonal secretion was evaluated in the new cell lines. RNA sequencing and immunohistochemistry confirmed the expression of adrenal cortex markers in the PDXs and human tumors. The new cell lines replicate two of the known genetic models of ACC. CU-ACC1 cells had a mutation in CTNNB1 and secreted cortisol but not aldosterone. CU-ACC2 cells had a TP53 mutation and loss of MSH2 consistent with the patient’s known germline mutation causing Lynch syndrome. Both cell lines can be transfected and transduced with similar growth rates. These new preclinical models of ACC significantly advance the field by allowing investigation of underlying molecular mechanisms of ACC and the ability to test patient-specific therapeutic targets.

Free access

Susanna Vuorenoja, Adolfo Rivero-Müller, Adam J Ziecik, Ilpo Huhtaniemi, Jorma Toppari, and Nafis A Rahman

Novel strategies are needed for the treatment of adrenocortical tumors that are usually resistant to chemotherapy. Hecate, a 23-amino acid lytic peptide, was conjugated to the 15-amino acid (81–95) fragment of the human chorionic gonadotropin β (CGβ) chain, which would selectively kill cancer cells expressing the LH receptor (LHR) sparing the normal ones with LHR. To prove the principle that Hecate-CGβ conjugate may eradicate tumors ectopically expressing plasma membrane receptors, transgenic (TG) inhibin α-subunit promoter (inhα)/Simian Virus 40 T-antigen mice, expressing LHR in their adrenal gland tumors, were used as the experimental model. Wild-type control littermates and TG mice with adrenal tumors were treated with either Hecate or Hecate-CGβ conjugate at the age of 6.5 months for 3 weeks and killed 7 days after the last treatment. The Hecate-CGβ conjugate reduced the adrenal tumor burden significantly in TG male but not in female mice, in comparison with Hecate-treated mice. Hecate-CGβ conjugate treatment did not affect normal adrenocortical function as the serum corticosterone level between Hecate and Hecate-CGβ conjugate groups were similar. The mRNA and protein expressions of GATA-4 and LHR colocalized only in tumor area, and a significant downregulation of gene expression was found after the Hecate-CGβ conjugate in comparison with Hecate- and/or non-treated adrenal tumors by western blotting. This finding provides evidence for a selective destruction of the tumor cells by the Hecate-CGβ conjugate. Hereby, our findings support the principle that Hecate-CGβ conjugate is able to specifically destroy tumor cells that ectopically express LHR.

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.

Free access

Ségolène Hescot, Abdelhamid Slama, Anne Lombès, Angelo Paci, Hervé Remy, Sophie Leboulleux, Rita Chadarevian, Séverine Trabado, Larbi Amazit, Jacques Young, Eric Baudin, and Marc Lombès

Mitotane, 1,1-dichloro-2-(o-chlorophenyl)-2-(p-chlorophenyl)ethane is the most effective medical therapy for adrenocortical carcinoma, but its molecular mechanism of action remains poorly understood. Although mitotane is known to have mitochondrial (mt) effects, a direct link to mt dysfunction has never been established. We examined the functional consequences of mitotane exposure on proliferation, steroidogenesis, and mt respiratory chain, biogenesis and morphology, in two human adrenocortical cell lines, the steroid-secreting H295R line and the non-secreting SW13 line. Mitotane inhibited cell proliferation in a dose- and a time-dependent manner. At the concentration of 50 μM (14 mg/l), which corresponds to the threshold for therapeutic efficacy, mitotane drastically reduced cortisol and 17-hydroxyprogesterone secretions by 70%. This was accompanied by significant decreases in the expression of genes encoding mt proteins involved in steroidogenesis (STAR, CYP11B1, and CYP11B2). In both H295R and SW13 cells, 50 μM mitotane significantly inhibited (50%) the maximum velocity of the activity of the respiratory chain complex IV (cytochrome c oxidase (COX)). This effect was associated with a drastic reduction in steady-state levels of the whole COX complex as revealed by blue native PAGE and reduced mRNA expression of both mtDNA-encoded COX2 (MT-CO2) and nuclear DNA-encoded COX4 (COX4I1) subunits. In contrast, the activity and expression of respiratory chain complexes II and III were unaffected by mitotane treatment. Lastly, mitotane exposure enhanced mt biogenesis (increase in mtDNA content and PGC1 α (PPARGC1A) expression) and triggered fragmentation of the mt network. Altogether, our results provide first evidence that mitotane induced a mt respiratory chain defect in human adrenocortical cells.

Free access

S G Creemers, L J Hofland, E Korpershoek, G J H Franssen, F J van Kemenade, W W de Herder, and R A Feelders

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare disease with a poor prognosis. Discrimination between ACCs and adrenocortical adenomas (ACAs) remains challenging, with the current gold standard being the Weiss score, consisting of several histopathological characteristics. However, new markers like Ki67, a marker for proliferation, and the staining of reticulins are promising not only as it comes to identifying malignancy but also as prognostic markers in patients with ACC. Currently, surgery is still the only curative treatment for ACC. Mitotane, an adrenolytic drug, is used in the adjuvant setting and in case of metastatic or advanced disease. Patients with progressive disease are frequently treated with mitotane, alone or in combination with etoposide, doxorubicine and cisplatin. Radiotherapy is indicated in selected cases. The low response rates and high toxicity of the systemic therapies emphasize the need for markers that enable the identification of responders and non-responders. Consequently, research is focusing on predictive factors varying from the expression of DNA repair genes to clinical patient characteristics. Subgroups of ACC with different prognosis have been identified based on transcriptome characteristics. As a conclusion from large molecular studies, ACCs appear to harbor many abnormalities compared to ACAs. Altered pathways driving ACC pathogenesis include the IGF, TP53 and the Wnt signaling pathway, allowing these as new potential targets for medical therapy. However, despite efforts in preclinical and clinical studies investigating efficacy of targeting these pathways, most novel therapies appear to be effective in only a subset of patients with ACC. New treatment concepts are therefore urgently needed.