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Anna Angelousi, Eva Kassi, Narjes Ansari-Nasiri, Harpal Randeva, Gregory Kaltsas, and George Chrousos

Circadian rhythms at a central and peripheral level are operated by transcriptional/translational feedback loops involving a set of genes called ‘clock genes’ that have been implicated in the development of several diseases, including malignancies. Dysregulation of the Clock system can influence cancer susceptibility by regulating DNA damage and repair mechanisms, as well as apoptosis. A number of oncogenic pathways can be dysregulated via clock genes’ epigenetic alterations, including hypermethylation of clock genes’ promoters or variants of clock genes. Clock gene disruption has been studied in breast, lung and prostate cancer, and haematological malignancies. However, it is still not entirely clear whether clock gene disruption is the cause or the consequence of tumourigenesis and data in endocrine neoplasms are scarce. Recent findings suggest that clock genes are implicated in benign and malignant adrenocortical neoplasias. They have been also associated with follicular and papillary thyroid carcinomas and parathyroid adenomas, as well as pituitary adenomas and craniopharyngiomas. Dysregulation of clock genes is also encountered in ovarian and testicular tumours and may also be related with their susceptibility to chemotherapeutic agents. The most common clock genes that are implicated in endocrine neoplasms are PER1, CRY1; in most cases their expression is downregulated in tumoural compared to normal tissues. Although there is still a lot to be done for the better understanding of the role of clock genes in endocrine tumourigenenesis, existing evidence could guide research and help identify novel therapeutic targets aiming mainly at the peripheral components of the clock gene system.

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Peter M van Koetsveld, Giovanni Vitale, Richard A Feelders, Marlijn Waaijers, Diana M Sprij-Mooij, Ronald R de Krijger, Ernst-Jan M Speel, Johannes Hofland, Steven W J Lamberts, Wouter W de Herder, and Leo J Hofland

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is an aggressive tumor with very poor prognosis. Novel medical treatment opportunities are required. We investigated the effects of interferon-β (IFN-β), alone or in combination with mitotane, on cell growth and cortisol secretion in primary cultures of 13 human ACCs, three adrenal hyperplasias, three adrenal adenomas, and in two ACC cell lines. Moreover, the interrelationship between the effects of IGF2 and IFN-β was evaluated. Mitotane inhibited cell total DNA content/well (representing cell number) in 7/11 (IC50: 38±9.2 μM) and cortisol secretion in 5/5 ACC cultures (IC50: 4.5±0.1 μM). IFN-β reduced cell number in 10/11 (IC50: 83±18 IU/ml) and cortisol secretion in 5/5 ACC cultures (IC50: 7.3±1.5 IU/ml). The effect of IFN-β on cell number included the induction of apoptosis. IFN-β strongly inhibited mRNA expression of STAR, CYP11A1, CYP17A1, and CYP11B1. Mitotane and IFN-β induced an additive inhibitory effect on cell number and cortisol secretion. IGF2 (10 nM) inhibited apoptosis and increased cell number and cortisol secretion. These effects were counteracted by IFN-β treatment. Finally, IFN-β inhibited IGF2 secretion and mRNA expression. In conclusion, IFN-β is a potent inhibitor of ACC cell growth in human primary ACC cultures, partially mediated by an inhibition of the effects of IGF2, as well as its production. The increased sensitivity of ACC cells to mitotane induced by treatment with IFN-β may open the opportunity for combined treatment regimens with lower mitotane doses. The inhibition of the expression of steroidogenic enzymes by IFN-β is a novel mechanism that may explain its inhibitory effect on cortisol production.

Free access

Fabio L Forti and Hugo A Armelin

Arginine vasopressin (AVP), a vasoactive peptide hormone that binds to three G-protein coupled receptors (V1R, V2R, and V3R), has long been known to activate V1R and elicit mitogenesis in several cell types, including adrenal glomerulosa cells. However, in the mouse Y1 adrenocortical malignant cell line, AVP triggers not only a canonical mitogenic response but also novel RhoA-GTP-dependent mechanisms which downregulate cyclin D1, irreversibly inhibiting K-ras oncogene-driven proliferation. In Y1 cells, AVP blocks cyclin D1 expression, induces senescence-associated β-galactosidase (SAβ-Gal) and inhibits proliferation. However, ectopic expression of cyclin D1 renders Y1 cells resistant to both SAβ-Gal induction and proliferation inhibition by AVP. In addition, ectopic expression of the dominant negative RhoAN19 mutant blocks RhoA activation, yielding Y1 cell sub-lines which are no longer susceptible to cyclin D1 downregulation, SAβ-Gal induction, or proliferation inhibition by AVP. Furthermore, inhibiting RhoA with C3 exoenzyme protects Y1 cells from AVP proliferation inhibition and SAβ-Gal induction. On the other hand, AVP treatment does not activate caspases 3 and 7, and the caspase inhibitor Ac-DEVD-CMK does not protect Y1 cells from proliferation inhibition by AVP, implying that AVP does not trigger apoptosis. These results underline a pivotal survival activity of cyclin D1 that protects K-ras oncogene-dependent malignant cells from senescence.

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Erwan Thouënnon, Alice Pierre, Yannick Tanguy, Johann Guillemot, Destiny-Love Manecka, Marlène Guérin, L'houcine Ouafik, Mihaela Muresan, Marc Klein, Jérôme Bertherat, Hervé Lefebvre, Pierre-François Plouin, Laurent Yon, and Youssef Anouar

Pheochromocytomas are catecholamine-producing tumors which are generally benign, but which can also present as or develop into malignancy. Molecular pathways of malignant transformation remain poorly understood. Pheochromocytomas express various trophic peptides which may influence tumoral cell behavior. Here, we investigated the expression of trophic amidated peptides, including pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP), neuropeptide Y (NPY), and adrenomedullin (AM), and their receptors in benign and malignant pheochromocytomas in order to assess their potential role in chromaffin cell tumorigenesis and malignant transformation. PACAP, NPY, and AM are expressed in the majority of pheochromocytomas studied; NPY exhibiting the highest mRNA levels relative to reference genes. Although median gene expression or peptide levels were systematically lower in malignant compared to benign tumors, no statistically significant difference was found. Among all the receptors of these peptides that were analyzed, only the AM receptor RDC1 displayed a differential expression between benign and malignant pheochromocytomas. This receptor exhibited a fourfold higher expression in malignant than in benign tumors. AM and stromal cell-derived factor 1, which has also been described as a ligand for RDC1, increased the number of human pheochromocytoma cells in primary culture and exerted anti-apoptotic activity on rat pheochromocytoma PC12 cells. In addition, RDC1 gene silencing decreased the number of viable PC12 cells. This study shows the expression of several trophic peptides and their receptors in benign and malignant pheochromocytomas, and suggests that AM and its RDC1 receptor could be involved in chromaffin cell tumorigenesis through pro-survival effects. Therefore, AM and RDC1 may represent valuable targets for the treatment of malignant pheochromocytomas.

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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

M Seki, K Nomura, D Hirohara, M Kanazawa, T Sawada, K Takasaki, and H Demura

A 58-year-old man had adrenocortical carcinoma in the right adrenal gland. The tumour secreted excessive cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate (DHEA-S), and had invaded the right hepatic lobe and vena cava. Eleven months after surgical tumour resection, the serum DHEA-S levels again increased. Local tumour recurrence and a metastasis was found in the lung. Eleven months after surgery chemotherapy with mitotane (o,p'-DDD) was initiated. Twelve weeks of mitotane reduced serum DHEA-S levels and caused these tumours to disappear. The patient was then treated with low-dose mitotane (1.5-2.0 g/day) for 2 years. Serum levels of mitotane remained at less than 10 microg/ml. Although such low serum levels of mitotane and delayed initiation of mitotane after surgery have been proposed to weaken the antineoplastic effect of mitotane, the patient had a remission for 2 years. However, there was then local re-recurrence with an increase in serum DHEA-S and death 4 months later. The histological features of neoplastic cells were quite different comparing tumour resected at surgery and tumour at autopsy. The latter had more frequent mitotic nuclei. This tumour was initially sensitive to mitotane, but later became insensitive.

Free access

Constanze Hantel, Sara Jung, Thomas Mussack, Martin Reincke, and Felix Beuschlein

Owing to high relapse rates and early metastatic spread, prognosis in adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) patients remains poor, highlighting the importance of developing new treatment alternatives for them. Recently, polychemotherapy regimens including etoposide, doxorubicin, and cisplatin together with mitotane (EDP-M) have been defined as the standard treatment for late-stage disease patients. Nevertheless, the administration of conventional cytostatic drugs is associated with severe and dose-limiting side effects. In an attempt to optimize existing clinical treatment regimens, in this study, we investigated the therapeutic efficacy of EDP-M in comparison with that of a paclitaxel-modified scheme (paclitaxel, doxorubicin, cisplatin plus mitotane (PDP-M)) in preclinical in vitro and in vivo models. In addition, based on an extraordinary uptake phenomenon of liposomes in ACC cells, we further evaluated liposomal variants of these protocols (etoposide, liposomal doxorubicin, liposomal cisplatin plus mitotane (LEDP-M) and nab-paclitaxel, liposomal doxorubicin, liposomal cisplatin plus mitotane (LPDP-M)). In vitro, PDP-M was more potent in the induction of apoptosis and inhibition of cell viability as well as cell proliferation than EDP-M. Following the administration of a single therapeutic cycle, we further demonstrated that LEDP-M and LPDP-M exerted significant antitumoral effects in vivo, which were not as evident upon EDP-M and PDP-M treatments. These results were confirmed in a long-term experiment, in which the highest and sustained antitumoral effects were observed for LEDP-M. In summary, liposomal cytostatic substances could represent a promising option that deserves testing in appropriate clinical protocols for the treatment of ACC patients.

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.

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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, P M van Koetsveld, F J van Kemenade, T G Papathomas, G J H Franssen, F Dogan, E M W Eekhoff, P van der Valk, W W de Herder, J A M J L Janssen, R A Feelders, and L J Hofland

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare malignancy with a poor prognosis. Discrimination of ACCs from adrenocortical adenomas (ACAs) is challenging on both imaging and histopathological grounds. High IGF2 expression is associated with malignancy, but shows large variability. In this study, we investigate whether specific methylation patterns of IGF2 regulatory regions could serve as a valuable biomarker in distinguishing ACCs from ACAs. Pyrosequencing was used to analyse methylation percentages in DMR0, DMR2, imprinting control region (ICR) (consisting of CTCF3 and CTCF6) and the H19 promoter. Expression of IGF2 and H19 mRNA was assessed by real-time quantitative PCR. Analyses were performed in 24 ACCs, 14 ACAs and 11 normal adrenals. Using receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis, we evaluated which regions showed the best predictive value for diagnosis of ACC and determined the diagnostic accuracy of these regions. In ACCs, the DMR0, CTCF3, CTCF6 and the H19 promoter were positively correlated with IGF2 mRNA expression (P<0.05). Methylation in the most discriminating regions distinguished ACCs from ACAs with a sensitivity of 96%, specificity of 100% and an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.997±0.005. Our findings were validated in an independent cohort of 9 ACCs and 13 ACAs, resulting in a sensitivity of 89% and a specificity of 92%. Thus, methylation patterns of IGF2 regulatory regions can discriminate ACCs from ACAs with high diagnostic accuracy. This proposed test may become the first objective diagnostic tool to assess malignancy in adrenal tumours and facilitate the choice of therapeutic strategies in this group of patients.