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Free access

T M A Kerkhofs, M H T Ettaieb, I G C Hermsen, and H R Haak

Cancer of the adrenal cortex (ACC) is a rare endocrine malignancy with limited treatment options. Patients typically present with autonomous hormonal overproduction and/or a large abdominal mass. Hormonal assays and medical imaging can be diagnostic, but urinary steroid profiling might be a more sensitive technique to assess malignancy in adrenal tumours. The stage of the disease at diagnosis is the most important prognostic factor. The current staging system needs refinement, especially to separate aggressive from indolent disease in stage IV patients and to select patients who need adjuvant treatment after complete surgical resection. Regarding the latter, assessing the proliferation index Ki-67 seems the best tool currently available. Genomic profiling is expected to become of clinical relevance in the future. Medical therapy is centred on the adrenolytic drug mitotane, which carries considerable toxicity and is not easy to manage. Its tolerability and long plasma level build-up phase may be improved by therapeutic drug monitoring based on pharmacokinetic modelling and intensive counselling of patients. Current chemotherapy regimens can offer disease stabilization in about 50% of patients, but an objective response should be expected in <25%. Research on targeted therapy and immunotherapy is difficult in this rare disease with often heavily pre-treated patients and has not yet been successful. Quality of care should be ensured by treating patients in centres with established experience in multidisciplinary oncologic care, who adhere to prevailing guidelines and state-of-the-art in diagnostic and treatment concepts. International collaboration in fundamental research and clinical trials is the key to further elucidate the pathogenesis and to improve patient care.

Free access

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.

Open access

Helene Myrtue Nielsen, Alexandre How-Kit, Carole Guerin, Frederic Castinetti, Hans Kristian Moen Vollan, Catherine De Micco, Antoine Daunay, David Taieb, Peter Van Loo, Celine Besse, Vessela N Kristensen, Lise Lotte Hansen, Anne Barlier, Frederic Sebag, and Jörg Tost

Overexpression of insulin growth factor 2 (IGF2) is a hallmark of adrenocortical carcinomas and pheochromocytomas. Previous studies investigating the IGF2/H19 locus have mainly focused on a single molecular level such as genomic alterations or altered DNA methylation levels and the causal changes underlying IGF2 overexpression are still not fully established. In the current study, we analyzed 62 tumors of the adrenal gland from patients with Conn's adenoma (CA, n=12), pheochromocytomas (PCC, n=10), adrenocortical benign tumors (ACBT, n=20), and adrenocortical carcinomas (ACC, n=20). Gene expression, somatic copy number variation of chr11p15.5, and DNA methylation status of three differential methylated regions of the IGF2/H19 locus including the H19 imprinting control region were integratively analyzed. IGF2 overexpression was found in 85% of the ACCs and 100% of the PCCs compared to 23% observed in CAs and ACBTs. Copy number aberrations of chr11p15.5 were abundant in both PCCs and ACCs but while PCCs retained a diploid state, ACCs were frequently tetraploid (7/19). Loss of either a single allele or loss of two alleles of the same parental origin in tetraploid samples resulted in a uniparental disomy-like genotype. These copy number changes correlated with hypermethylation of the H19 ICR suggesting that the lost alleles were the unmethylated maternal alleles. Our data provide conclusive evidence that loss of the maternal allele correlates with IGF2 overexpression in adrenal tumors and that hypermethylation of the H19 ICR is a consequence thereof.

Free access

Alfred King-yin Lam

Adrenal lipomatous tumour is a group of adrenal tumours with a significant component of adipose tissue. According to the current World Health Organization (WHO) classification of tumours of endocrine organs, adrenal myelolipoma is the only entity amongst the group of tumours being described. In the literature, other more recently documented adrenal lipomatous tumours included 24 lipomas, 32 teratomas and 16 angiomyolipomas. Rare fatty tumours of the adrenal gland comprised liposarcoma, hibernoma, adrenocortical tumours with fat component and rare adrenal tumours with fat component. Myelolipoma comprises approximately 3% of primary adrenal tumour. It is noted more commonly in females and in the right adrenal gland. Approximately 40 bilateral myelolipomas were reported. The tumour is most frequently recorded in patients between fifth and seventh decades of life. Adrenal lipomas are often seen in males and in the right adrenal gland. They were commonly noted in patients in the sixth decade of life. The diagnosis could only be possible on examination of the surgically removed specimen. Adrenal teratomas were more common in females and with a bimodal age distribution. Slightly over 60% of the patients with adrenal teratoma are symptomatic. Adrenal angiomyolipomas were often symptomatic, more common in females and in the fifth decades of life. To conclude, adrenal lipomatous tumour is uncommon. They are often benign and non-functional. It is important to recognize the features of this group of lipomatous tumours in the adrenal gland as they are being detected on increasing incidence as a result of the wide-spread use of modern imaging modalities.

Free access

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.

Free access

Maria Cristina De Martino, Peter M van Koetsveld, Richard A Feelders, Diana Sprij-Mooij, Marlijn Waaijers, Steven W J Lamberts, Wouter W de Herder, Annamaria Colao, Rosario Pivonello, and Leo J Hofland

Patients with adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) need new treatment options. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of the mTOR inhibitors sirolimus and temsirolimus on human ACC cell growth and cortisol production. In H295, HAC15, and SW13 cells, we have evaluated mTOR, IGF2, and IGF1 receptor expressions; the effects of sirolimus and temsirolimus on cell growth; and the effects of sirolimus on apoptosis, cell cycle, and cortisol production. Moreover, the effects of sirolimus on basal and IGF2-stimulated H295 cell colony growth and on basal and IGF1-stimulated phospho-AKT, phospho-S6K1, and phospho-ERK in H295 and SW13 were studied. Finally, we have evaluated the effects of combination treatment of sirolimus with an IGF2-neutralizing antibody. We have found that H295 and HAC15 expressed IGF2 at a >1800-fold higher level than SW13. mTOR inhibitors suppressed cell growth in a dose-/time-dependent manner in all cell lines. SW13 were the most sensitive to these effects. Sirolimus inhibited H295 colony surviving fraction and size. These effects were not antagonized by IGF2, suggesting the involvement of other autocrine regulators of mTOR pathways. In H295, sirolimus activated escape pathways. The blocking of endogenously produced IGF2 increased the antiproliferative effects of sirolimus on H295. Cortisol production by H295 and HAC15 was inhibited by sirolimus. The current study demonstrates that mTOR inhibitors inhibit the proliferation and cortisol production in ACC cells. Different ACC cells have different sensitivity to the mTOR inhibitors. mTOR could be a target for the treatment of human ACCs, but variable responses might be expected. In selected cases of ACC, the combined targeting of mTOR and IGF2 could have greater effects than mTOR inhibitors alone.

Open access

Tiantian Liu, Taylor C Brown, C Christofer Juhlin, Adam Andreasson, Na Wang, Martin Bäckdahl, James M Healy, Manju L Prasad, Reju Korah, Tobias Carling, Dawei Xu, and Catharina Larsson

The telomerase reverse transcriptase gene (TERT) encodes the reverse transcriptase component of the telomerase complex, which is essential for telomere stabilization and cell immortalization. Recent studies have demonstrated a transcriptional activation role for the TERT promoter mutations C228T and C250T in many human cancers, as well as a role in aggressive disease with potential clinical applications. Although telomerase activation is known in adrenal tumors, the underlying mechanisms are not established. We assessed C228T and C250T TERT mutations by direct Sanger sequencing in tumors of the adrenal gland, and further evaluated potential associations with clinical parameters and telomerase activation. A total of 199 tumors were evaluated, including 34 adrenocortical carcinomas (ACC), 47 adrenocortical adenomas (ACA), 105 pheochromocytomas (PCC; ten malignant and 95 benign), and 13 abdominal paragangliomas (PGL; nine malignant and four benign). TERT expression levels were determined by quantitative RT-PCR. The C228T mutation was detected in 4/34 ACCs (12%), but not in any ACA (P=0.028). C228T was also observed in one benign PCC and in one metastatic PGL. The C250T mutation was not observed in any case. In the ACC and PGL groups, TERT mutation-positive cases exhibited TERT expression, indicating telomerase activation; however, since expression was also revealed in TERT WT cases, this could denote additional mechanisms of TERT activation. To conclude, the TERT promoter mutation C228T is a recurrent event associated with TERT expression in ACCs, but rarely occurs in PGL and PCC. The involvement of the TERT gene in ACC represents a novel mutated gene in this entity.

Free access

Paola Sperone, Anna Ferrero, Fulvia Daffara, Adriano Priola, Barbara Zaggia, Marco Volante, Daniele Santini, Bruno Vincenzi, Giuseppe Badalamenti, Chiara Intrivici, Sabrina Del Buono, Silvia De Francia, Emmanouil Kalomirakis, Riccardo Ratti, Alberto Angeli, Luigi Dogliotti, Mauro Papotti, Massimo Terzolo, and Alfredo Berruti

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare neoplasm characterized by poor prognosis. First-line systemic treatments in advanced disease include mitotane, either alone or in combination with chemotherapy. Studies evaluating second-line therapy options have obtained disappointing results. This trial assessed the activity and toxicity of gemcitabine plus metronomic fluoropyrimidines in heavily pretreated advanced ACC patients. From 1998 to 2008, 28 patients with advanced ACC progressing after mitotane plus one or two systemic chemotherapy lines were enrolled. They received a combination of i.v. gemcitabine (800 mg/m2, on days 1 and 8, every 21 days) and i.v. 5-fluorouracil protracted infusion (200 mg/m2/daily without interruption until progression) in the first six patients, or oral capecitabine (1500 mg/daily) in the subsequent patients. Mitotane administration was maintained in all cases. The rate of non-progressing patients after 4 months of treatment was 46.3%. A complete response was observed in 1 patient (3.5%); 1 patient (3.5%) obtained a partial regression, 11 patients (39.3%) obtained a disease stabilization and 15 patients (53.7%) progressed. Treatment was well tolerated, with grade III and IV toxicities consisting of leukopenia in six patients (21.4%), thrombocytopenia in one patient (3.5%), and mucositis in one patient (3.5%). Median time to progression and overall survival in the patient population were 5.3 (range: 1–43) and 9.8 months (range: 3–73) respectively. Gemcitabine plus metronomic fluoropyrimidines is a well-tolerated and moderately active regimen in heavily pretreated ACC patients.

Free access

A R Glover, J T Zhao, J C Ip, J C Lee, B G Robinson, A J Gill, P S H Soon, and S B Sidhu

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is an aggressive malignancy with high rates of recurrence following surgical resection. Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) play an important role in cancer development. Pathogenesis of adrenal tumours have been characterised by mRNA, microRNA and methylation expression signatures, but it is unknown if this extends to lncRNAs. This study describes lncRNA expression signatures in ACC, adrenal cortical adenoma (ACA) and normal adrenal cortex (NAC) and presents lncRNAs associated with ACC recurrence to identify novel prognostic and therapeutic targets. RNA was extracted from freshly frozen tissue with confirmation of diagnosis by histopathology. Focused lncRNA and mRNA transcriptome analysis was performed using the ArrayStar Human LncRNA V3.0 microarray. Differentially expressed lncRNAs were validated using quantitative reverse transcriptase-PCR and correlated with clinical outcomes. Microarray of 21 samples (ten ACCs, five ACAs and six NACs) showed distinct patterns of lncRNA expression between each group. A total of 956 lncRNAs were differentially expressed between ACC and NAC, including known carcinogenesis-related lncRNAs such as H19, GAS5, MALAT1 and PRINS (P≤0.05); 85 lncRNAs were differentially expressed between ACC and ACA (P≤0.05). Hierarchical clustering and heat mapping showed ACC samples correctly grouped compared with NAC and ACA. Sixty-six differentially expressed lncRNAs were found to be associated with ACC recurrence (P≤0.05), one of which, PRINS, was validated in a group of 20 ACCs and also found to be associated with metastatic disease on presentation. The pathogenesis of adrenal tumours extends to lncRNA dysregulation and low expression of the lncRNA PRINS is associated with ACC recurrence.

Free access

B Wängberg, A Khorram-Manesh, S Jansson, B Nilsson, O Nilsson, C E Jakobsson, S Lindstedt, A Odén, and H Ahlman

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare tumour disease with sinister prognosis also after attempts to radical surgery; better prognosis is seen for low-stage tumours. Adjuvant treatment with the adrenolytic drug mitotane has been attempted, but not proven to prevent from recurrence. The drug may offer survival advantage in case of recurrence. The aim of this single-centre study (1979–2007) of 43 consecutive patients was to evaluate the long-term survival after active surgical treatment combined with monitored mitotane (to reduce side effects of the drug). The series is unique, since all patients were offered a period of mitotane as adjuvant or palliative treatment; six patients refused mitotane. Despite a high proportion of high-stage tumours (67%), the complete resection rate was high (77%). The disease-specific 5-year survival was high (64.1%); very high for patients with low-stage tumours without evident relation to mitotane levels. Patients with high-stage tumours had a clear survival advantage with mitotane levels above a threshold of 14 mg/l in serum. The hazard ratio for patients with high mitotane levels versus all patients indicates a significant effect of the drug. The results indicate that adjuvant mitotane may be the standard of care for patients with high-stage ACC after complete resection.