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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.

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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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Fidéline Bonnet-Serrano and Jérôme Bertherat

This review describes the molecular alterations observed in the various types of tumors of the adrenal cortex, excluding Conn adenomas, especially the alterations identified by genomic approaches these last five years. Two main forms of bilateral adrenocortical tumors can be distinguished according to size and aspect of the nodules: primary pigmented nodular adrenal disease (PPNAD), which can be sporadic or part of Carney complex and primary bilateral macro nodular adrenal hyperplasia (PBMAH). The bilateral nature of the tumors suggests the existence of an underlying genetic predisposition. PPNAD and Carney complex are mainly due to germline-inactivating mutations of PRKAR1A, coding for a regulatory subunit of PKA, whereas PBMAH genetic seems more complex. However, genome-wide approaches allowed the identification of a new tumor suppressor gene, ARMC5, whose germline alteration could be responsible for at least 25% of PBMAH cases. Unilateral adrenocortical tumors are more frequent, mostly adenomas. The Wnt/beta-catenin pathway can be activated in both benign and malignant tumors by CTNNB1 mutations and by ZNRF3 inactivation in adrenal cancer (ACC). Some other signaling pathways are more specific of the tumor dignity. Thus, somatic mutations of cAMP/PKA pathway genes, mainly PRKACA, coding for the catalytic alpha-subunit of PKA, are found in cortisol-secreting adenomas, whereas IGF-II overexpression and alterations of p53 signaling pathway are observed in ACC. Genome-wide approaches including transcriptome, SNP, methylome and miRome analysis have identified new genetic and epigenetic alterations and the further clustering of ACC in subgroups associated with different prognosis, allowing the development of new prognosis markers.

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S G Creemers, P M van Koetsveld, W W De Herder, F Dogan, G J H Franssen, R A Feelders, and L J Hofland

Chemotherapy for adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) has limited efficacy and is accompanied by severe toxicity. This lack of effectiveness has been associated with high tumoral levels of the multidrug resistance (MDR) pump P-glycoprotein (P-gp), encoded by the MDR1 gene. In this study, effects of P-gp inhibition on the sensitivity of ACC cells to cytotoxic drugs were evaluated. MDR1 mRNA and P-gp expression were determined in human adrenal tissues and cell lines. H295R, HAC15 and SW13 cells were treated with mitotane, doxorubicin, etoposide, cisplatin and streptozotocin, with or without the P-gp inhibitors verapamil and tariquidar. Cell growth and surviving fraction of colonies were assessed. MDR1 mRNA and P-gp protein expression were lower in ACCs than in adrenocortical adenomas (P < 0.0001; P < 0.01, respectively). MDR1 and P-gp expression were positively correlated in ACC (P < 0.0001, ρ = 0.723). Mitotane, doxorubicin, cisplatin and etoposide dose dependently inhibited cell growth in H295R, HAC15 and SW13. Tariquidar, and in H295R also verapamil, increased the response of HAC15 and H295R to doxorubicin (6.3- and 7.5-fold EC50 decrease in H295R, respectively; all P < 0.0001). Sensitivity to etoposide was increased in H295R and HAC15 by verapamil and tariquidar (all P < 0.0001). Findings were confirmed when assessing colony formation. We show that cytotoxic drugs, except streptozotocin, used for ACC treatment, inhibit ACC cell growth and colony formation at clinically achievable concentrations. P-gp inhibition increases sensitivity to doxorubicin and etoposide, suggesting that MDR1 is involved in sensitivity to these drugs and could be a potential target for cytotoxic treatment improvement in ACC.

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Fulvia Daffara, Silvia De Francia, Giuseppe Reimondo, Barbara Zaggia, Emiliano Aroasio, Francesco Porpiglia, Marco Volante, Angela Termine, Francesco Di Carlo, Luigi Dogliotti, Alberto Angeli, Alfredo Berruti, and Massimo Terzolo

Toxicity of adjuvant mitotane treatment is poorly known; thus, our aim was to assess prospectively the unwanted effects of adjuvant mitotane treatment and correlate the findings with mitotane concentrations. Seventeen consecutive patients who were treated with mitotane after radical resection of adrenocortical cancer (ACC) from 1999 to 2005 underwent physical examination, routine laboratory evaluation, monitoring of mitotane concentrations, and a hormonal work-up at baseline and every 3 months till ACC relapse or study end (December 2007). Mitotane toxicity was graded using NCI CTCAE criteria. All biochemical measurements were performed at our center and plasma mitotane was measured by an in-house HPLC assay. All the patients reached mitotane concentrations >14 mg/l and none of them discontinued definitively mitotane for toxicity; 14 patients maintained consistently elevated mitotane concentrations despite tapering of the drug. Side effects occurred in all patients but were manageable with palliative treatment and adjustment of hormone replacement therapy. Mitotane affected adrenal steroidogenesis with a more remarkable inhibition of cortisol and DHEAS than aldosterone. Mitotane induced either perturbation of thyroid function mimicking central hypothyroidism or, in male patients, inhibition of testosterone secretion. The discrepancy between salivary and serum cortisol, as well as between total and free testosterone, is due to the mitotane-induced increase in hormone-binding proteins which complicates interpretation of hormone measurements. A low-dose monitored regimen of mitotane is tolerable and able to maintain elevated drug concentrations in the long term. Mitotane exerts a complex effect on the endocrine system that may require multiple hormone replacement therapy.

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Antonio M Lerario, Kazutaka Nanba, Amy R Blinder, Sachiko Suematsu, Masao Omura, Tetsuo Nishikawa, Thomas J Giordano, William E Rainey, and Tobias Else

Somatic variants in genes that regulate intracellular ion homeostasis have been identified in aldosterone-producing adenomas (APAs). Although the mechanisms leading to increased aldosterone production in APA cells have been well studied, the molecular events that cause cell proliferation and tumor formation are poorly understood. In the present study, we have performed whole-exome sequencing (WES) to characterize the landscape of somatic alterations in a homogeneous series of APA with pathogenic KCNJ5 variants. In the WES analysis on 11 APAs, 84 exonic somatic events were called by 3 different somatic callers. Besides the KCNJ5 gene, only two genes (MED13 and ZNF669) harbored somatic variants in more than one APA. Unlike adrenocortical carcinomas, no chromosomal instability was observed by the somatic copy-number alteration and loss of heterozygosity analyses. The estimated tumor purity ranged from 0.35 to 0.67, suggesting a significant proportion of normal cell infiltration. Based on the results of PureCN analysis, the KCNJ5 variants appear to be clonal. In conclusion, in addition to KCNJ5 somatic pathogenic variants, no significant somatic event that would obviously explain proliferation or tumor growth was observed in our homogeneous cohort of KCNJ5-mutated APA. The molecular mechanisms causing APA growth and tumorigenesis remain to be elucidated.

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.

Free access

Wiebke Fenske, Hans-Ullrich Völker, Patrick Adam, Stefanie Hahner, Sarah Johanssen, Sebastian Wortmann, Melanie Schmidt, Michael Morcos, Hans-Konrad Müller-Hermelink, Bruno Allolio, and Martin Fassnacht

Owing to the rarity of adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) no prognostic markers have been established beyond stage and resection status. Accelerated glycolysis is a characteristic feature of cancer cells and in a variety of tumour entities key factors in glucose metabolism like glucose transporter 1 and 3 (GLUT1 and -3), transketolase like-1 enzyme (TKTL1) and pyruvate kinase type M2 (M2-PK) are overexpressed and of prognostic value. Therefore, we investigated the role of these factors in ACC. Immunohistochemical analysis was performed on tissue microarrays of paraffin-embedded tissue samples from 167 ACCs, 15 adrenal adenomas and 4 normal adrenal glands. Expression was correlated with baseline parameters and clinical outcome. GLUT1 and -3 were expressed in 33 and 17% of ACC samples respectively, but in none of the benign tumours or normal adrenals glands. By contrast, TKTL1 and M2-PK were detectable in all benign tissues and the vast majority of ACCs. GLUT1 expression was strongly associated with prognosis in univariate and multivariate analysis (P<0.01), whereas GLUT3, TKTL1 and M2-PK did not correlate with clinical outcome. Patients with strong GLUT1 staining showed a considerably higher overall mortality (hazard ratio (HR) 6.34 (95% confidence interval 3.10–12.90) compared with patients with no GLUT1 staining. When analysing patients in their early stages and advanced disease separately, similar results were obtained. HR for survival was 5.31 (1.80–15.62) in patients with metatastic ACC and in patients after radical resection the HR for disease-free survival was 6.10 (2.16–16.94). In conclusion, GLUT1 is a highly promising stage-independent, prognostic marker in ACC.

Free access

Barbara Mariniello, Antonio Rosato, Gaia Zuccolotto, Beatrice Rubin, Maria Verena Cicala, Isabella Finco, Maurizio Iacobone, Anna Chiara Frigo, Ambrogio Fassina, Raffaele Pezzani, and Franco Mantero

Treatment options are insufficient in patients with adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC). Based on the efficacy of sorafenib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, and everolimus, an inhibitor of the mammalian target of rapamycin in tumors of different histotype, we aimed at testing these drugs in adrenocortical cancer models. The expression of vascular endothelial growth factor and its receptors (VEGFR1–2) was studied in 18 ACCs, 33 aldosterone-producing adenomas, 12 cortisol-producing adenomas, and six normal adrenal cortex by real-time PCR and immunohistochemistry and by immunoblotting in SW13 and H295R cancer cell lines. The effects of sorafenib and everolimus, alone or in combination, were tested on primary adrenocortical cultures and SW13 and H295R cells by evaluating cell viability and apoptosis in vitro and tumor growth inhibition of tumor cell line xenografts in immunodeficient mice in vivo. VEGF and VEGFR1–2 were detected in all samples and appeared over-expressed in two-thirds of ACC specimens. Dose-dependent inhibition of cell viability was observed particularly in SW13 cells after 24 h treatment with either drug; drug combination produced markedly synergistic growth inhibition. Increasing apoptosis was observed in tumor cells treated with the drugs, particularly with sorafenib. Finally, a significant mass reduction and increased survival were observed in SW13 xenograft model undergoing treatment with the drugs in combination. Our data suggest that an autocrine VEGF loop may exist within ACC. Furthermore, a combination of molecularly targeted agents may have both antiangiogenic and direct antitumor effects and thus could represent a new therapeutic tool for the treatment of ACC.

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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.