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Lucas Leite Cunha, Marjory Alana Marcello, Vinicius Rocha-Santos, and Laura Sterian Ward

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are agents that act by inhibiting the mechanisms of immune escape displayed by various cancers. The success of immune checkpoint inhibitors against several tumors has promoted a new treatment strategy in clinical oncology, and this has encouraged physicians to increase the number of patients who receive the immune checkpoint therapy. In the present article, we review the main concepts regarding immune checkpoint mechanisms and how cancer disrupts them to undergo immune escape. In addition, we describe the most essential concepts related to immune checkpoint inhibitors. We critically review the literature on preclinical and clinical studies of the immune checkpoint inhibitors as a treatment option for thyroid cancer, ovarian carcinoma, pancreatic adenocarcinoma, adrenocortical carcinoma and neuroendocrine tumors. We present the challenges and the opportunities of using immune checkpoint inhibitors against these endocrine malignancies, highlighting the breakthroughs and pitfalls that have recently emerged.

Free access

Pasqualino Malandrino, Abir Al Ghuzlan, Marine Castaing, Jacques Young, Bernard Caillou, Jean-Paul Travagli, Dominique Elias, Thierry de Baere, Clarisse Dromain, Angelo Paci, Philippe Chanson, Martin Schlumberger, Sophie Leboulleux, and Eric Baudin

To progress in the stratification of the first-line therapeutic management of metastatic adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), we searched for prognostic parameters of survival in patients treated with combined mitotane- and cisplatinum-based chemotherapy as first-line. We retrospectively studied prospectively collected parameters from 131 consecutive patients with metastatic ACC (44 with a tissue specimen available) treated at the Gustave Roussy Institute with mitotane- and platinum-based chemotherapy. Fifty-five patients with clinical, pathological, and morphological data available together with treatment characteristics including detailed follow-up were enrolled. Plasma mitotane levels and ERCC1 protein staining were analyzed. Response was analyzed according to RECIST criteria as well as overall survival (OS) from the start of cisplatinum-based chemotherapy. Parameters impacting on OS were evaluated by univariate analysis, and then analyzed by multivariate analysis. Using a landmark method, OS according to response to chemotherapy was analyzed. Objective response to combined mitotane- and cisplatinum-based chemotherapy was 27.3%. Median OS was 1 year. In the univariate analysis, resection of the primary, time since diagnosis, mitotane monotherapy as single first-line treatment, number of affected organs, plasma mitotane above 14 mg/l, and objective response were predictors of survival. In the multivariate analysis, mitotane level ≥14 mg/l and objective response to platinum-based chemotherapy were found to be independent predictors of survival (P=0.03 and <0.001). Our study suggests a prognostic role for mitotane therapy and objective response to platinum-based chemotherapy.

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.

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.

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.

Free access

A Karpathakis, H Dibra, and C Thirlwell

The field of epigenetics has evolved rapidly over recent years providing insight into the tumorigenesis of many solid and haematological malignancies. Determination of epigenetic modifications in neuroendocrine tumour (NET) development is imperative if we are to improve our understanding of the biology of this heterogenous group of tumours. Epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation at RASSF1A are frequent findings in NETs of all origins and may be associated with worse prognosis. MicroRNA signatures and histone modifications have been identified which can differentiate subtypes of NET and distinguish NET from adenocarcinoma in cases of diagnostic uncertainty. Historically, candidate gene-driven approaches have yielded limited insight into the epigenetics of NET. Recent progress has been facilitated by development of high-throughput tools including second-generation sequencing and arrays for analysis of the ‘epigenome’ of tumour and normal tissue, permitting unbiased approaches such as exome sequencing that identified mutations of chromatin-remodelling genes ATRX/DAXX in 44% of pancreatic NETs. Epigenetic changes are reversible and therefore represent an attractive therapeutic target; to date, clinical outcomes of epigenetic therapies in solid tumours have been disappointing; however, in vitro studies on NETs are promising and further clinical trials are required to determine utility of this class of novel agents. In this review, we perform a comprehensive evaluation of epigenetic changes found in NETs to date, including rare NETs such as phaeochromocytoma and adrenocortical tumours. We suggest priorities for future research and discuss potential clinical applications and novel therapies.