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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.

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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.

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Wiebke Fenske, Hans-Ullrich Völker, Patrick Adam, Stefanie Hahner, Sarah Johanssen, Sebastian Wortmann, Melanie Schmidt, Michael Morcos, Hans-Konrad Müller-Hermelink, Bruno Allolio, and Martin Fassnacht

Owing to the rarity of adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) no prognostic markers have been established beyond stage and resection status. Accelerated glycolysis is a characteristic feature of cancer cells and in a variety of tumour entities key factors in glucose metabolism like glucose transporter 1 and 3 (GLUT1 and -3), transketolase like-1 enzyme (TKTL1) and pyruvate kinase type M2 (M2-PK) are overexpressed and of prognostic value. Therefore, we investigated the role of these factors in ACC. Immunohistochemical analysis was performed on tissue microarrays of paraffin-embedded tissue samples from 167 ACCs, 15 adrenal adenomas and 4 normal adrenal glands. Expression was correlated with baseline parameters and clinical outcome. GLUT1 and -3 were expressed in 33 and 17% of ACC samples respectively, but in none of the benign tumours or normal adrenals glands. By contrast, TKTL1 and M2-PK were detectable in all benign tissues and the vast majority of ACCs. GLUT1 expression was strongly associated with prognosis in univariate and multivariate analysis (P<0.01), whereas GLUT3, TKTL1 and M2-PK did not correlate with clinical outcome. Patients with strong GLUT1 staining showed a considerably higher overall mortality (hazard ratio (HR) 6.34 (95% confidence interval 3.10–12.90) compared with patients with no GLUT1 staining. When analysing patients in their early stages and advanced disease separately, similar results were obtained. HR for survival was 5.31 (1.80–15.62) in patients with metatastic ACC and in patients after radical resection the HR for disease-free survival was 6.10 (2.16–16.94). In conclusion, GLUT1 is a highly promising stage-independent, prognostic marker in ACC.

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Isadora Pontes Cavalcante, Anna Vaczlavik, Ludivine Drougat, Claudimara Ferini Pacicco Lotfi, Karine Perlemoine, Christopher Ribes, Marthe Rizk-Rabin, Eric Clauser, Maria Candida Barisson Villares Fragoso, Jérôme Bertherat, and Bruno Ragazzon

ARMC5 (Armadillo repeat containing 5 gene) was identified as a new tumor suppressor gene responsible for hereditary adrenocortical tumors and meningiomas. ARMC5 is ubiquitously expressed and encodes a protein which contains a N-terminal Armadillo repeat domain and a C-terminal BTB (Bric-a-Brac, Tramtrack and Broad-complex) domain, both docking platforms for numerous proteins. At present, expression regulation and mechanisms of action of ARMC5 are almost unknown. In this study, we showed that ARMC5 interacts with CUL3 requiring its BTB domain. This interaction leads to ARMC5 ubiquitination and further degradation by the proteasome. ARMC5 alters cell cycle (G1/S phases and cyclin E accumulation) and this effect is blocked by CUL3. Moreover, missense mutants in the BTB domain of ARMC5, identified in patients with multiple adrenocortical tumors, are neither able to interact and be degraded by CUL3/proteasome nor alter cell cycle. These data show a new mechanism of regulation of the ARMC5 protein and open new perspectives in the understanding of its tumor suppressor activity.

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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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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.