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A Raitila, M Georgitsi, A Karhu, K Tuppurainen, M J Mäkinen, K Birkenkamp-Demtröder, K Salmenkivi, T F Ørntoft, J Arola, V Launonen, P Vahteristo, and L A Aaltonen

Germline mutations in the aryl hydrocarbon receptor interacting protein (AIP) gene were recently observed in patients with pituitary adenoma predisposition (PAP). Though AIP mutation-positive individuals with prolactin-, mixed growth hormone/prolactin-, and ACTH-producing pituitary adenomas as well as non-secreting pituitary adenomas have been reported, most mutation-positive patients have had growth hormone-producing adenomas diagnosed at relatively young age. Pituitary adenomas are also component tumors of some familial endocrine neoplasia syndromes such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) and Carney complex (CNC). Genes underlying MEN1 and CNC are rarely mutated in sporadic pituitary adenomas, but more often in other lesions contributing to these two syndromes. Thus far, the occurrence of somatic AIP mutations has not been studied in endocrine tumors other than pituitary adenomas. Here, we have analyzed 32 pituitary adenomas and 79 other tumors of the endocrine system for somatic AIP mutations by direct sequencing. No somatic mutations were identified. However, two out of nine patients with prolactin-producing adenoma were shown to harbor a Finnish founder mutation (Q14X) with a complete loss of the wild-type allele in the tumors. These results are in agreement with previous studies in that prolactin-producing adenomas are component tumors in PAP. The data also support the previous finding that somatic AIP mutations are not common in pituitary adenomas and suggest that such mutations are rare in other endocrine tumors as well.

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K Revill, K J Dudley, R N Clayton, A M McNicol, and W E Farrell

The imprinted gene, neuronatin (NNAT), is one of the most abundant transcripts in the pituitary and is thought to be involved in the development and maturation of this gland. In a recent whole-genome approach, exploiting a pituitary tumour cell line, we identified hypermethylation associated loss of NNAT. In this report, we determined the expression pattern of NNAT in individual cell types of the normal gland and within each of the different pituitary adenoma subtypes. In addition, we determined associations between expression and CpG island methylation and used colony forming efficiency assays (CFE) to gain further insight into the tumour-suppressor function of this gene. Immunohistochemical (IHC) co-localization studies of normal pituitaries showed that each of the hormone secreting cells (GH, PRL, ACTH, FSH and TSH) expressed NNAT. However, 33 out of 47 adenomas comprising, 11 somatotrophinomas, 10 prolactinomas, 12 corticotrophinomas and 14 non-functioning tumours, irrespective of subtype failed to express either NNAT transcript or protein as determined by quantitative real-time RT-PCR and IHC respectively. In normal pituitaries and adenomas that expressed NNAT the promoter-associated CpG island showed characteristics of an imprinted gene where ∼50% of molecules were densely methylated. However, in the majority of adenomas that showed loss or significantly reduced expression of NNAT, relative to normal pituitaries, the gene-associated CpG island showed significantly increased methylation. Induced expression of NNAT in transfected AtT-20 cells significantly reduced CFE. Collectively, these findings point to an important role for NNAT in the pituitary and perhaps tumour development in this gland.

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C Schaaf, B Shan, M Buchfelder, M Losa, J Kreutzer, W Rachinger, G K Stalla, T Schilling, E Arzt, M J Perone, and U Renner

Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) is the active ingredient of the spice plant Curcuma longa and has been shown to act anti-tumorigenic in different types of tumours. Therefore, we have studied its effect in pituitary tumour cell lines and adenomas. Proliferation of lactosomatotroph GH3 and somatotroph MtT/S rat pituitary cells as well as of corticotroph AtT20 mouse pituitary cells was inhibited by curcumin in monolayer cell culture and in colony formation assay in soft agar. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) analysis demonstrated curcumin-induced cell cycle arrest at G2/M. Analysis of cell cycle proteins by immunoblotting showed reduction in cyclin D1, cyclin-dependent kinase 4 and no change in p27kip. FACS analysis with Annexin V-FITC/7-aminoactinomycin D staining demonstrated curcumin-induced early apoptosis after 3, 6, 12 and 24 h treatment and nearly no necrosis. Induction of DNA fragmentation, reduction of Bcl-2 and enhancement of cleaved caspase-3 further confirmed induction of apoptosis by curcumin. Growth of GH3 tumours in athymic nude mice was suppressed by curcumin in vivo. In endocrine pituitary tumour cell lines, GH, ACTH and prolactin production were inhibited by curcumin. Studies in 25 human pituitary adenoma cell cultures have confirmed the anti-tumorigenic and hormone-suppressive effects of curcumin. Altogether, the results described in this report suggest this natural compound as a good candidate for therapeutic use on pituitary tumours.

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D Dworakowska, E Wlodek, C A Leontiou, S Igreja, M Cakir, M Teng, N Prodromou, M I Góth, S Grozinsky-Glasberg, M Gueorguiev, B Kola, M Korbonits, and A B Grossman

Raf/MEK/ERK and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) cascades are key signalling pathways interacting with each other to regulate cell growth and tumourigenesis. We have previously shown B-Raf and Akt overexpression and/or overactivation in pituitary adenomas. The aim of this study is to assess the expression of their downstream components (MEK1/2, ERK1/2, mTOR, TSC2, p70S6K) and effectors (c-MYC and CYCLIN D1). We studied tissue from 16 non-functioning pituitary adenomas (NFPAs), six GH-omas, six prolactinomas and six ACTH-omas, all collected at transsphenoidal surgery; 16 normal autopsy pituitaries were used as controls. The expression of phospho and total protein was assessed with western immunoblotting, and the mRNA expression with quantitative RT-PCR. The expression of pSer217/221 MEK1/2 and pThr183 ERK1/2 (but not total MEK1/2 or ERK1/2) was significantly higher in all tumour subtypes in comparison to normal pituitaries. There was no difference in the expression of phosphorylated/total mTOR, TSC2 or p70S6K between pituitary adenomas and controls. Neither c-MYC phosphorylation at Ser 62 nor total c-MYC was changed in the tumours. However, c-MYC phosphorylation at Thr58/Ser62 (a response target for Akt) was decreased in all tumour types. CYCLIN D1 expression was higher only in NFPAs. The mRNA expression of MEK1, MEK2, ERK1, ERK2, c-MYC and CCND1 was similar in all groups. Our data indicate that in pituitary adenomas both the Raf/MEK/ERK and PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathways are upregulated in their initial cascade, implicating a pro-proliferative signal derangement upstream to their point of convergence. However, we speculate that other processes, such as senescence, attenuate the changes downstream in these benign tumours.

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V V Vax, M Gueorguiev, I I Dedov, A B Grossman, and M Korbonits

The oncogenes and/or tumour suppressor genes which may be involved in the transformation process for the vast majority of pituitary tumours remain unknown. There is substantial evidence for derangement of cell cycle control in such tumours, but cell cycle protein mutations identified in other human malignancies are restricted to only a very small subset of sporadic pituitary neoplasms. Krüppel-like factors are DNA-binding transcriptional regulators with diverse effects including the upregulation of the cell cycle protein p21(WAF1/CIP1). It has been reported that the Krüppel-like transcription factor 6 (KLF6) gene is mutated in a proportion (15-55%) of human prostate cancers, and more recent data are emerging regarding mutated KLF6 in nasopharyngeal carcinomas, astrocytoid gliomas and colorectal cancer. We therefore speculated that other tumours such as pituitary adenomas might also harbour such mutations that may be involved in the control of cell proliferation in the pituitary. The aim of the current study was thus to analyse the KLF6 gene for mutations in sporadic pituitary tumours. We analysed 60 pituitary adenomas (15 GH-, four ACTH-, two PRL-secreting and 39 non-functioning) with direct sequence analysis of exons 2 and 3 of the KLF6 gene, the region where most of the previously described mutations are located. Three non-functioning pituitary adenomas of the 60 pituitary tumours (5%) had two identical sequence changes in exon 2 (missense mutation Val165Met, 523G-->A and a silent substitution in Ser77Ser codon 261C-->T). Analysis of genomic DNA extracted from peripheral lymphocytes in one patient confirmed these changes to be present in the germline and they therefore probably represent polymorphisms, although we cannot exclude the possibility that these are predisposing germline mutations. We conclude that mutations of the KLF6 gene are unlikely to play an important role in sporadic pituitary tumorigenesis.

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L Cerquetti, B Bucci, R Marchese, S Misiti, U De Paula, R Miceli, A Muleti, D Amendola, P Piergrossi, E Brunetti, V Toscano, and A Stigliano

Mitotane, 1,1-dichloro-2-(o-chlorophenyl)-2-(p-chlorophenyl)ethane (o,p′-DDD) is an agent with adrenotoxic effect, which is able to block cortisol synthesis. This drug and radiotherapy are used also in adrenal cancer treatment even if their biological action in this neoplasia remains unknown. We investigated the effects of o,p′-DDD and ionizing radiations (IR) on cell growth inhibition and cell cycle perturbation in H295R and SW13 adrenocortical cancer cells. Both cell lines were irradiated at a 6 Gy dose and were treated with o,p′-DDD 10−5 M separately and with IR/o,p′-DDD in combination. This combination treatment induced an irreversible inhibition of cell growth in both adrenocortical cancer cells. Cell cycle analysis showed that IR alone and IR/o,p′-DDD in combination induced the cell accumulation in the G2 phase. At 120 h after IR, the cells were able to recover the IR-induced G2 block while cells treated with IR/o,p′-DDD were still arrested in G2 phase. In order to study the molecular mechanism involved in the G2 irreversible arrest, we have considered the H295R cell line showing the highest inhibition of cell proliferation associated with a noteworthy G2 arrest. In these cells, cyclin B1 and Cdk2 proteins were examined by western blot and Cdk2 kinase activity measured by assay kit. The H295R cells treated with IR/o,p′-DDD shared an increase in cyclin B1 amount as the coimmunoprecipitation of Cdc2–cyclin B1 complex. The kinase activity also shows an increase in the treated cells with combination therapy. Moreover, in these cells, sequence analysis of p53 revealed a large deletion of exons 8 and 9. The same irreversible block on G2 phase, induced by IR/o,p′-DDD treatment, happened in H295R cells with restored wild-type p53 suggesting that this mechanism is not mediated by p53 pathway.

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A Stigliano, L Cerquetti, M Borro, G Gentile, B Bucci, S Misiti, P Piergrossi, E Brunetti, M Simmaco, and V Toscano

Mitotane, 1,1-dichloro-2-(o-chlorophenyl)-2-(p-chloro-phenyl) ethane (o,p′-DDD), is a compound that represents the effective agent in the treatment of the adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), able to block cortisol synthesis. In this type of cancer, the biological mechanism induced by this treatment remains still unknown. In this study, we have already shown a greater impairment in the first steps of the steroidogenesis and recognized a little effect on cell cycle. We also evaluated the variation of proteomic profile of the H295R ACC cell line, either in total cell extract or in mitochondria-enriched fraction after treatment with mitotane. In total cell extracts, triose phosphate isomerase, α-enolase, D-3-phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase, peroxiredoxin II and VI, heat shock protein 27, prohibitin, histidine triad nucleotide-binding protein, and profilin-1 showed a different expression. In the mitochondrial fraction, the following proteins appeared to be down regulated: aldolase A, peroxiredoxin I, heterogenous nuclear ribonucleoprotein A2/B1, tubulin-β isoform II, heat shock cognate 71 kDa protein, and nucleotide diphosphate kinase, whereas adrenodoxin reductase, cathepsin D, and heat shock 70 kDa protein 1A were positively up-regulated. This study represents the first proteomic study on the mitotane effects on ACC. It permits to identify some protein classes affected by the drug involved in energetic metabolism, stress response, cytoskeleton structure, and tumorigenesis.

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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.

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Alfredo Berruti, Massimo Terzolo, Paola Sperone, Anna Pia, Silvia Della Casa, David J Gross, Carlo Carnaghi, Paolo Casali, Francesco Porpiglia, Franco Mantero, Giuseppe Reimondo, Alberto Angeli, and Luigi Dogliotti

To investigate the activity of etoposide, doxorubicin, and cisplatin plus mitotane in the management of advanced adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) patients, 72 patients with measurable disease not amenable to radical surgery were enrolled in a prospective, multicenter phase II trial. EDP schedule (etoposide 100 mg/m2 on days 5–7, doxorubicin 20 mg/m2 on days 1 and 8, and cisplatin 40 mg/m2 on days 1 and 9) was administered intravenously every 4 weeks. Concomitantly, patients were given up to 4 g/day of oral mitotane. Five patients achieved a complete response and 30 a partial response, for an overall response rate of 48.6% (95% CI: 37.1–60.3). Median time to progression in responding patients was 18 months. The EDP regimen was well tolerated, leukopenia being the dose limiting toxicity. One toxic related death due to septic shock, however, was registered. Radical surgical resection of residual disease after chemotherapy was performed in 10 patients. The overall survival of patients attaining a disease free status (clinical complete responders+radically resected) was significantly higher than that of patients with partial response or no response (P<0.002). Androgen secretion was associated with long survival, while glucocorticoid secretion was associated with poor prognosis both in univariate and multivariate analysis. In conclusion, EDP plus mitotane is an active and manageable combination scheme for ACC patients. Surgical resection of residual disease subsequent to chemotherapy leads to a more favourable outcome. The natural history of the disease is significantly influenced by the secretory status of the tumor.

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Maria Cristina De Martino, Richard A Feelders, Wouter W de Herder, Peter M van Koetsveld, Fadime Dogan, Joseph A M J L Janssen, A Marlijn Waaijers, Claudia Pivonello, Steven W J Lamberts, Annamaria Colao, Ronald R de Krijger, Rosario Pivonello, and Leo J Hofland

The mTOR pathway has recently been suggested as a new potential target for therapy in adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs). The aim of the current study is to describe the expression of the mTOR pathway in normal adrenals (NAs) and pathological adrenals and to explore whether there are correlation between the expression of these proteins and the in vitro response to sirolimus. For this purpose, the MTOR, S6K1 (RPS6KB1), and 4EBP1 (EIF4EBP1) mRNA expression were evaluated in ten NAs, ten adrenal hyperplasias (AHs), 17 adrenocortical adenomas (ACAs), and 17 ACCs by qPCR, whereas total(t)/phospho(p)-MTOR, t/p-S6K, and t/p-4EBP1 protein expression were assessed in three NAs, three AHs, six ACAs, and 20 ACCs by immunohistochemistry. The effects of sirolimus on cell survival and/or cortisol secretion in 12 human primary cultures of adrenocortical tumors (ATs) were also evaluated. In NAs and AHs, layer-specific expression of evaluated proteins was observed. S6K1 mRNA levels were lower in ACCs compared with NAs, AHs, and ACAs (P<0.01). A subset of ATs presented a moderate to high staining of the evaluated proteins. Median t-S6K1 protein expression in ACCs was lower than that in ACAs (P<0.01). Moderate to high staining of p-S6K1 and/or p-4EBP1 was observed in most ATs. A subset of ACCs not having moderate to high staining had a higher Weiss score than others (P<0.029). In primary AT cultures, sirolimus significantly reduced cell survival or cortisol secretion only in sporadic cases. In conclusion, these data suggest the presence of an activated mTOR pathway in a subset of ATs and a possible response to sirolimus only in certain ACC cases.