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Open access

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

Deregulation of microRNA (miRNA) expression in adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs) has been documented to have diagnostic, prognostic, as well as functional implications. Here, we evaluated the mRNA expression of DROSHA, DGCR8, DICER (DICER1), TARBP2, and PRKRA, the core components in the miRNA biogenesis pathway, in a cohort of 73 adrenocortical tumors (including 43 adenomas and 30 carcinomas) and nine normal adrenal cortices using a RT-qPCR approach. Our results show a significant over-expression of TARBP2, DICER, and DROSHA in the carcinomas compared with adenomas or adrenal cortices (P<0.001 for all comparisons). Using western blot and immunohistochemistry analyses, we confirmed the higher expression of TARBP2, DICER, and DROSHA at the protein level in carcinoma cases. Furthermore, we demonstrate that mRNA expression of TARBP2, but not DICER or DROSHA, is a strong molecular predictor to discriminate between adenomas and carcinomas. Functionally, we showed that inhibition of TARBP2 expression in human NCI-H295R ACC cells resulted in a decreased cell proliferation and induction of apoptosis. TARBP2 over-expression was not related to gene mutations; however, copy number gain of the TARBP2 gene was observed in 57% of the carcinomas analyzed. In addition, we identified that miR-195 and miR-497 could directly regulate TARBP2 and DICER expression in ACC cells. This is the first study to demonstrate the deregulation of miRNA-processing factors in adrenocortical tumors and to show the clinical and biological impact of TARBP2 over-expression in this tumor type.

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

Michael Solarski, Fabio Rotondo, William D Foulkes, John R Priest, Luis V Syro, Henriett Butz, Michael D Cusimano, and Kalman Kovacs

In this review, the importance of the DICER1 gene in the function of endocrine cells is discussed. There is conclusive evidence that DICER1 mutations play a crucial role in the development, progression, cell proliferation, therapeutic responsiveness and behavior of several endocrine tumors. We review the literature of DICER1 gene mutations in thyroid, parathyroid, pituitary, pineal gland, endocrine pancreas, paragangliomas, medullary, adrenocortical, ovarian and testicular tumors. Although significant progress has been made during the last few years, much more work is needed to fully understand the significance of DICER1 mutations.

Free access

T M A Kerkhofs, M H T Ettaieb, I G C Hermsen, and H R Haak

Cancer of the adrenal cortex (ACC) is a rare endocrine malignancy with limited treatment options. Patients typically present with autonomous hormonal overproduction and/or a large abdominal mass. Hormonal assays and medical imaging can be diagnostic, but urinary steroid profiling might be a more sensitive technique to assess malignancy in adrenal tumours. The stage of the disease at diagnosis is the most important prognostic factor. The current staging system needs refinement, especially to separate aggressive from indolent disease in stage IV patients and to select patients who need adjuvant treatment after complete surgical resection. Regarding the latter, assessing the proliferation index Ki-67 seems the best tool currently available. Genomic profiling is expected to become of clinical relevance in the future. Medical therapy is centred on the adrenolytic drug mitotane, which carries considerable toxicity and is not easy to manage. Its tolerability and long plasma level build-up phase may be improved by therapeutic drug monitoring based on pharmacokinetic modelling and intensive counselling of patients. Current chemotherapy regimens can offer disease stabilization in about 50% of patients, but an objective response should be expected in <25%. Research on targeted therapy and immunotherapy is difficult in this rare disease with often heavily pre-treated patients and has not yet been successful. Quality of care should be ensured by treating patients in centres with established experience in multidisciplinary oncologic care, who adhere to prevailing guidelines and state-of-the-art in diagnostic and treatment concepts. International collaboration in fundamental research and clinical trials is the key to further elucidate the pathogenesis and to improve patient care.

Free access

Adwitiya Kar, Yu Zhang, Betelehem W Yacob, Jordan Saeed, Kenneth D Tompkins, Stacey M Bagby, Todd M Pitts, Hilary Somerset, Stephen Leong, Margaret E Wierman, and Katja Kiseljak-Vassiliades

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is an aggressive orphan malignancy with less than 35% 5-year survival and 75% recurrence. Surgery remains the primary therapy and mitotane, an adrenolytic, is the only FDA-approved drug with wide-range toxicities and poor tolerability. There are no targeted agents available to date. For the last three decades, H295R cell line and its xenograft were the only available preclinical models. We recently developed two new ACC patient-derived xenograft mouse models and corresponding cell lines (CU-ACC1 and CU-ACC2) to advance research in the field. Here, we have utilized these novel models along with H295R cells to establish the mitotic PDZ-binding kinase (PBK) as a promising therapeutic target. PBK is overexpressed in ACC samples and correlates with poor survival. We show that PBK is regulated by FOXM1 and targeting PBK via shRNA decreased cell proliferation, clonogenicity and anchorage-independent growth in ACC cell lines. PBK silencing inhibited pAkt, pp38MAPK and pHistone H3 altering the cell cycle. Therapeutically, targeting PBK with the small-molecule inhibitor HITOPK032 phenocopied PBK-specific modulation of pAkt and pHistone H3, but also induced apoptosis via activation of JNK. Consistent with in vitro findings, treatment of CU-ACC1 PDXs with HITOPK032 significantly reduced tumor growth by 5-fold (P < 0.01). Treated tumor tissues demonstrated increased rates of apoptosis and JNK activation, with decreased pAkt and Histone H3 phosphorylation, consistent with effects observed in ACC cell lines. Together these studies elucidate the mechanism of PBK in ACC tumorigenesis and establish the potential therapeutic potential of HITOPK032 in ACC patients.

Free access

Antonio M Lerario, Kazutaka Nanba, Amy R Blinder, Sachiko Suematsu, Masao Omura, Tetsuo Nishikawa, Thomas J Giordano, William E Rainey, and Tobias Else

Somatic variants in genes that regulate intracellular ion homeostasis have been identified in aldosterone-producing adenomas (APAs). Although the mechanisms leading to increased aldosterone production in APA cells have been well studied, the molecular events that cause cell proliferation and tumor formation are poorly understood. In the present study, we have performed whole-exome sequencing (WES) to characterize the landscape of somatic alterations in a homogeneous series of APA with pathogenic KCNJ5 variants. In the WES analysis on 11 APAs, 84 exonic somatic events were called by 3 different somatic callers. Besides the KCNJ5 gene, only two genes (MED13 and ZNF669) harbored somatic variants in more than one APA. Unlike adrenocortical carcinomas, no chromosomal instability was observed by the somatic copy-number alteration and loss of heterozygosity analyses. The estimated tumor purity ranged from 0.35 to 0.67, suggesting a significant proportion of normal cell infiltration. Based on the results of PureCN analysis, the KCNJ5 variants appear to be clonal. In conclusion, in addition to KCNJ5 somatic pathogenic variants, no significant somatic event that would obviously explain proliferation or tumor growth was observed in our homogeneous cohort of KCNJ5-mutated APA. The molecular mechanisms causing APA growth and tumorigenesis remain to be elucidated.

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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.

Free access

B Wängberg, A Khorram-Manesh, S Jansson, B Nilsson, O Nilsson, C E Jakobsson, S Lindstedt, A Odén, and H Ahlman

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare tumour disease with sinister prognosis also after attempts to radical surgery; better prognosis is seen for low-stage tumours. Adjuvant treatment with the adrenolytic drug mitotane has been attempted, but not proven to prevent from recurrence. The drug may offer survival advantage in case of recurrence. The aim of this single-centre study (1979–2007) of 43 consecutive patients was to evaluate the long-term survival after active surgical treatment combined with monitored mitotane (to reduce side effects of the drug). The series is unique, since all patients were offered a period of mitotane as adjuvant or palliative treatment; six patients refused mitotane. Despite a high proportion of high-stage tumours (67%), the complete resection rate was high (77%). The disease-specific 5-year survival was high (64.1%); very high for patients with low-stage tumours without evident relation to mitotane levels. Patients with high-stage tumours had a clear survival advantage with mitotane levels above a threshold of 14 mg/l in serum. The hazard ratio for patients with high mitotane levels versus all patients indicates a significant effect of the drug. The results indicate that adjuvant mitotane may be the standard of care for patients with high-stage ACC after complete resection.

Free access

Zsófia Tömböl, Peter M Szabó, Viktor Molnár, Zoltán Wiener, Gergely Tölgyesi, János Horányi, Peter Riesz, Peter Reismann, Attila Patócs, István Likó, Rolf-Christian Gaillard, András Falus, Károly Rácz, and Peter Igaz

MicroRNAs (miRs) are involved in the pathogenesis of several neoplasms; however, there are no data on their expression patterns and possible roles in adrenocortical tumors. Our objective was to study adrenocortical tumors by an integrative bioinformatics analysis involving miR and transcriptomics profiling, pathway analysis, and a novel, tissue-specific miR target prediction approach. Thirty-six tissue samples including normal adrenocortical tissues, benign adenomas, and adrenocortical carcinomas (ACC) were studied by simultaneous miR and mRNA profiling. A novel data-processing software was used to identify all predicted miR–mRNA interactions retrieved from PicTar, TargetScan, and miRBase. Tissue-specific target prediction was achieved by filtering out mRNAs with undetectable expression and searching for mRNA targets with inverse expression alterations as their regulatory miRs. Target sets and significant microarray data were subjected to Ingenuity Pathway Analysis. Six miRs with significantly different expression were found. miR-184 and miR-503 showed significantly higher, whereas miR-511 and miR-214 showed significantly lower expression in ACCs than in other groups. Expression of miR-210 was significantly lower in cortisol-secreting adenomas than in ACCs. By calculating the difference between dCTmiR-511 and dCTmiR-503 (delta cycle threshold), ACCs could be distinguished from benign adenomas with high sensitivity and specificity. Pathway analysis revealed the possible involvement of G2/M checkpoint damage in ACC pathogenesis. To our knowledge, this is the first report describing miR expression patterns and pathway analysis in sporadic adrenocortical tumors. miR biomarkers may be helpful for the diagnosis of adrenocortical malignancy. This tissue-specific target prediction approach may be used in other tumors too.

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.