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Teresa M Seccia, Ambrogio Fassina, Gastone G Nussdorfer, Achille C Pessina, and Gian Paolo Rossi

Aldosterone-producing adrenocortical carcinoma (APAC) is a rare cause of hypertension often diagnosed late because of paucity of information. Thus, we delineated its clinical course and survival rates based on two cases referred to us that featured diverging clinical courses, and on a scrutiny of the literature since 1955 when the first case of APAC was identified. Data on demography, imaging results, hormonal assessment, histology, and clinical course were extracted independently by the investigators. We included in our database 58 cases, most presenting with Conn’s syndrome. Plasma aldosterone levels were on average increased 14-fold; plasma renin activity was suppressed in 55% of cases. The tumor showed extremely variable size and weight, and no gender or side preference. Metastases were present in 10% of all cases at initial diagnosis and in an additional 48% of cases at follow-up. Median survival was 546 days (95% confidence interval (CI): 240–851); median time to either recurrence or death was 212 days (95% CI: 29–395). No clinical or histological signs predicted survival with Cox regression analysis. We concluded that, although an ominous course with a poor survival rate is common, no sign accurately predicts the course of APAC. Thus, molecular studies to identify diagnostic markers of survival are mandatory.

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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.

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David J Gross, Gabriel Munter, Menachem Bitan, Tali Siegal, Alberto Gabizon, Ronny Weitzen, Ofer Merimsky, Aliza Ackerstein, Asher Salmon, Avishai Sella, and Shimon Slavin

Group-author : The Israel Glivec in Solid Tumors Study Group

Imatinib mesylate (IM), a small molecule that is a selective inhibitor of the ABL, platelet derived growth factor receptor (PDGFR-R) and stem cell ligand receptor (c-kit) tyrosine kinases (TK). IM was also found to inhibit the TK activity of BCR/ABL fusion protein produced in chronic myelogenous leukemia, with marked clinical activity against the disease. Since both PDGF-R and c-kit both having a putative role in tumorigenesis, we investigated the efficacy and safety of the use of IM in patients with endocrine tumors unresponsive to conventional therapies that expressed c-kit and/or PDGF-R (within the framework of a comprehensive phase II multi-center study of IM in patients with solid tumors). IM was initiated at a dose of 400 mg/day, with possible dose escalation within 1 week to 600 mg/day and an option to raise the dose to 800 mg/day in the event of progression and in the absence of safety concerns for a period of up to 12 months. Between September 2002 and July 2003, 15 adult patients with disseminated endocrine tumors were recruited as follows: medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC, n = 6); adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC, n = 4); malignant pheochromocytoma (pheo, n = 2); carcinoid (non-secreting, n = 2), neuroendocrine tumor (NET, n = 1). No objective responses were observed. MTC – disease progression in 4 patients, and treatment discontinuation in 2 patients due to adverse events; ACC – disease progression in 3 patients, and treatment discontinuation in 1 patient due to severe psychiatric adverse event; Pheo – disease progression in 2 patients; Carcinoid – stable disease in 1 patient (6.5 months), and disease progression in 1 patient; NET – disease progression in 1 patient. IM does not appear to be useful for treatment of malignant endocrine tumors, also causing significant toxicity in this patient population.

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Nunki Hassan, Jing Ting Zhao, Anthony Glover, Bruce G Robinson, and Stan B Sidhu

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) has high recurrence rates and poor prognosis with limited response to conventional cancer therapy. Recent contributions of high-throughput transcriptomic profiling identified microRNA-497 (miR-497) as significantly underexpressed, while lncRNA MALAT1 (metastasis-associated lung adenocarcinoma transcript 1) as overexpressed in ACC. miR-497 is located in the chromosomal region 17p13.1, in which there is a high frequency of loss of heterozygosity in ACC. We aim to investigate the interaction of miR-497 and MALAT1 in ACC and its functional roles in the process of tumourigenesis. In this study, we demonstrated miR-497 post-transcriptionally repressed MALAT1 while MALAT1 also competes for miR-497 binding to its molecular target, EIF4E (eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E). We showed that overexpression of miR-497 and silencing of MALAT1 suppressed cellular proliferation and induced cell cycle arrest through downregulation of EIF4E expression. Furthermore, MALAT1 directly binds to SFPQ (splicing factor proline and glutamine rich) protein, indicating its multifaceted roles in ACC pathophysiology. This is the first study to identify the feedback axis of miR-497-MALAT1/EIF4E in ACC tumourigenesis, providing novel insights into the molecular functions of noncoding RNAs in ACC.

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Giada Poli, Daniele Guasti, Elena Rapizzi, Rossella Fucci, Letizia Canu, Alessandra Bandinelli, Nicoletta Cini, Daniele Bani, Massimo Mannelli, and Michaela Luconi

At present, mitotane (MTT) represents the first-line pharmacological approach for the treatment of advanced adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC). Despite clear evidence that the drug can reduce the clinical signs of steroid excess in secreting ACC, the mechanism mediating the possible toxic effect of MTT on tumor cells still remains obscure. This study investigated the intracellular events underlying the toxic effect of MTT by studying qualitative and quantitative alterations in mitochondrial morphology and functions in human adrenocortical cancer cell lines, H295R and SW13. Increasing concentrations of MTT resulted in rapid intracellular accumulation and conversion of the drug. Cytostatic and cytotoxic effects were evident at doses corresponding to the therapeutic window (30–50 μM) through an apoptotic mechanism involving caspase 3/7. Electron microscopic analysis of cell mitochondria displayed MTT-induced dose- and time-dependent alterations in the morphology of the organelle. These alterations were characterized by a marked swelling and a decrease in the number of respiratory cristae, accompanied by a significant depolarization of the mitochondrial membrane potential, finally leading to the disruption of the organelle. A drastic reduction of oxygen consumption was observed due to mitochondrial membrane damage, which was accompanied by a decrease in the levels of VDAC1 integral membrane channel. These findings contribute to better understand the intracellular mechanism of action of MTT in ACC cells, showing that its cytotoxic effect seems to be mainly mediated by an apoptotic process activated by the disruption of mitochondria.

Free access

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.

Free access

Vassiliki Kotoula, Elias Sozopoulos, Helen Litsiou, Galinos Fanourakis, Triantafyllia Koletsa, Gerassimos Voutsinas, Sophia Tseleni-Balafouta, Constantine S Mitsiades, Axel Wellmann, and Nicholas Mitsiades

The serine/threonine kinase B-Raf plays a key role in the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK pathway that relays extracellular signals for cell proliferation and survival. Several types of human malignancies harbor activating BRAF mutations, most frequently a V600E substitution. The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a transmembrane tyrosine kinase (TK) receptor that mediates proliferation and survival signaling, is expressed in a wide variety of normal and neoplastic tissues. EGFR inhibitors have produced objective responses in patients with non-small cell lung carcinomas harboring activating EGFR TK domain somatic mutations. We evaluated the presence of mutations in BRAF (exons 11 and 15), KRAS (exons 1 and 2), NRAS (exons 1 and 2), and EGFR (exons 18–21) in adrenal carcinomas (35 tumor specimens and two cell lines) by DNA sequencing. BRAF mutations were found in two carcinomas (5.7%). Four carcinomas (11.4%) carried EGFR TK domain mutations. One specimen carried a KRAS mutation, and another carried two NRAS mutations. No mutations were found in the two adrenocortical cell lines. BRAF- and EGFR-mutant tumor specimens exhibited stronger immunostaining for the phosphorylated forms of the MEK and ERK kinases than their wild-type counterparts. EGFR-mutant carcinomas exhibited increased phosphorylation of EGFR (Tyr 992) compared with wild-type carcinomas. We conclude that BRAF, RAS, and EGFR mutations occur in a subset of human adrenocortical carcinomas. Inhibitors of the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK and EGFR pathways represent candidate targeted therapies for future clinical trials in carefully selected patients with adrenocortical carcinomas harboring respective activating mutations.

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Cristina L Ronchi, Silviu Sbiera, Luitgard Kraus, Sebastian Wortmann, Sarah Johanssen, Patrick Adam, Holger S Willenberg, Stefanie Hahner, Bruno Allolio, and Martin Fassnacht

Therapeutic progress in adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is severely hampered by its low incidence. Platinum-based chemotherapies are the most effective cytotoxic treatment regimens in ACC but response rates remain <50%. In other tumor entities, expression of excision repair cross complementing group 1 (ERCC1) predicts resistance to platinum compounds. Therefore, we correlated ERCC1 protein expression and clinical outcome. We have retrolectively established adrenal tissue microarrays and analyzed prospectively samples from 163 ACCs, 15 benign adrenal adenomas, and 8 normal adrenal glands by immunohistochemistry for ERCC1 protein expression. Detailed clinical data were available by the German ACC Registry. ERCC1 protein was highly expressed in all normal adrenal glands, 14 benign tumors (93%) and in 75 ACCs (47%). In ACC, no differences in baseline parameters were found between patients with and without ERCC1 expression. Detection of ERCC1 was not correlated with survival in patients who never received platinum-based chemotherapy. In platinum-treated patients (n=45), objective response to platinum compounds was observed in 3/21 patients (14.3%) with high ERCC1 expression and in 7/24 patients (29.2%) with low ERCC1 expression (P=0.23). ERCC1 expression was strongly correlated with overall survival after platinum treatment (median: eight months in patients with high ERCC1 versus 24 months in low ERCC1 expression, hazard ratio (HR) 2.95 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.4–6.2), P=0.004). Multivariate analysis confirmed that high ERCC1 expression was a predictive factor for poor prognosis in platinum treated patients (HR 2.2, 95% CI 1.0–4.5, P=0.038). Our findings suggest that ERCC1 expression is the first factor for predicting survival in ACC patients treated with platinum-based chemotherapy.

Free access

Eva Szarek, Evan R Ball, Alessio Imperiale, Maria Tsokos, Fabio R Faucz, Alessio Giubellino, François-Marie Moussallieh, Izzie-Jacques Namer, Mones S Abu-Asab, Karel Pacak, David Taïeb, J Aidan Carney, and Constantine A Stratakis

Carney triad (CTr) describes the association of paragangliomas (PGL), pulmonary chondromas, and gastrointestinal (GI) stromal tumors (GISTs) with a variety of other lesions, including pheochromocytomas and adrenocortical tumors. The gene(s) that cause CTr remain(s) unknown. PGL and GISTs may be caused by loss-of-function mutations in succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) (a condition known as Carney–Stratakis syndrome (CSS)). Mitochondrial structure and function are abnormal in tissues that carry SDH defects, but they have not been studied in CTr. For the present study, we examined mitochondrial structure in human tumors and GI tissue (GIT) of mice with SDH deficiency. Tissues from 16 CTr tumors (n=12), those with isolated GIST (n=1), and those with CSS caused by SDHC (n=1) and SDHD (n=2) mutations were studied by electron microscopy (EM). Samples of GIT from mice with a heterozygous deletion in Sdhb (Sdhb + /−, n=4) were also studied by EM. CTr patients presented with mostly epithelioid GISTs that were characterized by plump cells containing a centrally located, round nucleus and prominent nucleoli; these changes were almost identical to those seen in the GISTs of patients with SDH. In tumor cells from patients, regardless of diagnosis or tumor type, cytoplasm contained an increased number of mitochondria with a ‘hypoxic’ phenotype: mitochondria were devoid of cristae, exhibited structural abnormalities, and were of variable size. Occasionally, mitochondria were small and round; rarely, they were thin and elongated with tubular cristae. Many mitochondria exhibited amorphous fluffy material with membranous whorls or cystic structures. A similar mitochondrial hypoxic phenotype was seen in Sdhb + /− mice. We concluded that tissues from SDH-deficient tumors, those from mouse GIT, and those from CTr tumors shared identical abnormalities in mitochondrial structure and other features. Thus, the still-elusive CTr defect(s) is(are) likely to affect mitochondrial function, just like germline SDH-deficiency does.

Free access

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.