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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.

Restricted access

Kiran Nadella, Fabio R Faucz, and Constantine A Stratakis

Protein kinase A (PKA) regulatory subunit type 1A (PRKAR1A) defects lead to primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD). The KIT protooncogene (c-KIT) is not known to be expressed in the normal adrenal cortex (AC). In this study, we investigated the expression of c-KIT and its ligand, stem cell factor (SCF), in PPNAD and other cortisol-producing tumors of the adrenal cortex. mRNA and protein expression, by qRT-PCR, immunohistochemistry (IHC) and immunoblotting (IB), respectively, were studied. We then tested c-KIT and SCF responses to PRKAR1A introduction and PKA stimulation in adrenocortical cell lines CAR47 and H295R, which were also treated with the KIT inhibitor, imatinib mesylate (IM). Mice xenografted with H295R cells were treated with IM. There was increased c-KIT mRNA expression in PPNAD; IHC showed KIT and SCF immunoreactivity within certain nodular areas in PPNAD. IB data was consistent with IHC and mRNA data. PRKAR1A-deficient CAR47 cells expressed c-KIT; this was enhanced by forskolin and lowered by PRKAR1A reintroduction. Knockdown of PKA’s catalytic subunit (PRKACA) by siRNA reduced c-KIT levels. Treatment of the CAR47 cells with IM resulted in reduced cell viability, growth arrest, and apoptosis. Treatment with IM of mice xenografted with H295 cells inhibited further tumor growth. We conclude that c-KIT is expressed in PPNAD, an expression that appears to be dependent on PRKAR1A and/or PKA activity. In a human adrenocortical cell line and its xenografts in mice, c-KIT inhibition decreased growth, suggesting that c-KIT inhibitors may be a reasonable alternative therapy to be tested in PPNAD, when other treatments are not optimal.

Free access

A Falchetti and M L Brandi

Multiple Endocrine Neoplasias type 1 (MEN 1) and type 2 (MEN 2) represent complex inherited (autosomal dominant traits) syndromes characterized by occurrence of distinct proliferative disorders of endocrine tissues, varying from hyperplasia to adenoma and carcinoma.

MEN 1 syndrome is characterized by parathyroid gland, anterior pituitary and endocrine pancreas tumors. Other endocrine and non endocrine tumors, such as carcinoids, lipomas, pinealomas, adrenocortical and thyroid follicular tumors, have been also described in MEN 1 patients occurring at higher frequency than in general population (Brandi ML et al. 1987). Recently also a spinal ependymoma has been found in a patient with MEN 1 syndrome (Kato H et al 1997)

MEN 2 syndromes recognize three main clinical entities, MEN 2A, characterized by medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC), primary hyperparathyroidism (PHPT) and pheochromocytoma (PHEO); MEN 2B that exhibits MTC, usually developing sooner than the MEN 2A- associated one, pheochromocytoma, multiple neuromas of gastroenteric mucosa, myelinated corneal nerves (Gorlin RJ et al. 1968) and a typical marphanoid habitus; and familial medullary thyroid carcinoma only (FMTC) featuring by families with at least four members with MTC and no objective evidence of pheochromocytoma and parathyroid disease on screening of affected and at-risk members, as stated by the International RET Mutation Consortium (Larsson C et al. 1994).

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by grants of the Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro (to MLB), from CNR/PF ACRO (INV. 95.00316 PF 39) and by MURST 60% (to MLB).

Free access

S G Creemers, L J Hofland, E Korpershoek, G J H Franssen, F J van Kemenade, W W de Herder, and R A Feelders

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare disease with a poor prognosis. Discrimination between ACCs and adrenocortical adenomas (ACAs) remains challenging, with the current gold standard being the Weiss score, consisting of several histopathological characteristics. However, new markers like Ki67, a marker for proliferation, and the staining of reticulins are promising not only as it comes to identifying malignancy but also as prognostic markers in patients with ACC. Currently, surgery is still the only curative treatment for ACC. Mitotane, an adrenolytic drug, is used in the adjuvant setting and in case of metastatic or advanced disease. Patients with progressive disease are frequently treated with mitotane, alone or in combination with etoposide, doxorubicine and cisplatin. Radiotherapy is indicated in selected cases. The low response rates and high toxicity of the systemic therapies emphasize the need for markers that enable the identification of responders and non-responders. Consequently, research is focusing on predictive factors varying from the expression of DNA repair genes to clinical patient characteristics. Subgroups of ACC with different prognosis have been identified based on transcriptome characteristics. As a conclusion from large molecular studies, ACCs appear to harbor many abnormalities compared to ACAs. Altered pathways driving ACC pathogenesis include the IGF, TP53 and the Wnt signaling pathway, allowing these as new potential targets for medical therapy. However, despite efforts in preclinical and clinical studies investigating efficacy of targeting these pathways, most novel therapies appear to be effective in only a subset of patients with ACC. New treatment concepts are therefore urgently needed.

Free access

Susanna Vuorenoja, Bidut Prava Mohanty, Johanna Arola, Ilpo Huhtaniemi, Jorma Toppari, and Nafis A Rahman

Lytic peptide Hecate (23-amino acid (AA)) fused with a 15-AA fragment of human chorionic gonadotropin-β (CG-β), Hecate-CGβ conjugate (H-CGβ-c) selectively binds to and destroys tumor cells expressing LH/chorionic gonadotropin receptor (Lhcgr). Transgenic mice (6.5 month old) expressing SV40 T-antigen under the inhibin-α promoter (inhα/Tag) presenting with Lhcgr expressing adrenal tumors were treated either with H-CGβ-c, GnRH antagonist (GnRH-a), estradiol (E2; only females) or their combinations for 1 month. We expected that GnRH-a or E2 in combination with H-CGβ-c could improve the treatment efficacy especially in females by decreasing circulating LH and eliminating the potential competition of serum LH with the H-CGβ-c. GnRH-a and H-CGβ-c treatments were successful in males (adrenal weights 14±2.8 mg and 60±26 vs 237±59 mg in controls; P<0.05). Histopathologically, GnRH-a apparently destroyed the adrenal parenchyma leaving only the fibrotic capsule with few necrotic foci. In females, H-CGβ-c was totally ineffective, whereas GnRH-a (19±5 mg) or E2 (77±50 mg) significantly reduced the adrenal weights compared with controls (330±70 mg). Adrenal morphometry, cell proliferation markers, post-treatment suppression of serum progesterone, and quantitative RT-PCR of GATA-4, Lhcgr, and GATA-6 further supported the positive outcome. H-CGβ-c selectively killed the Lhcgr expressing tumor cells, whereas GnRH-a blocked tumor progression through gonadotropin suppression, emphasizing the gonadotropin dependency of these adrenocortical tumors. If extrapolated to humans, H-CGβ-c could be considered for the treatment of gonadotropin-dependent adrenal tumors in males, whereas in females gonadotropin suppression, but not H-CGβ-c, would work better.

Open access

Deniz M Özata, Stefano Caramuta, David Velázquez-Fernández, Pinar Akçakaya, Hong Xie, Anders Höög, Jan Zedenius, Martin Bäckdahl, Catharina Larsson, and Weng-Onn Lui

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is an aggressive tumor showing frequent metastatic spread and poor survival. Although recent genome-wide studies of ACC have contributed to our understanding of the disease, major challenges remain for both diagnostic and prognostic assessments. The aim of this study was to identify specific microRNAs (miRNAs) associated with malignancy and survival of ACC patients. miRNA expression profiles were determined in a series of ACC, adenoma, and normal cortices using microarray. A subset of miRNAs showed distinct expression patterns in the ACC compared with adrenal cortices and adenomas. Among others, miR-483-3p, miR-483-5p, miR-210, and miR-21 were found overexpressed, while miR-195, miR-497, and miR-1974 were underexpressed in ACC. Inhibition of miR-483-3p or miR-483-5p and overexpression of miR-195 or miR-497 reduced cell proliferation in human NCI-H295R ACC cells. In addition, downregulation of miR-483-3p, but not miR-483-5p, and increased expression of miR-195 or miR-497 led to significant induction of cell death. Protein expression of p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis (PUMA), a potential target of miR-483-3p, was significantly decreased in ACC, and inversely correlated with miR-483-3p expression. In addition, high expression of miR-503, miR-1202, and miR-1275 were found significantly associated with shorter overall survival among patients with ACC (P values: 0.006, 0.005, and 0.042 respectively). In summary, we identified additional miRNAs associated with ACC, elucidated the functional role of four miRNAs in the pathogenesis of ACC cells, demonstrated the potential involvement of the pro-apoptotic factor PUMA (a miR-483-3p target) in adrenocortical tumors, and found novel miRNAs associated with survival in ACC.

Free access

A Karpathakis, H Dibra, and C Thirlwell

The field of epigenetics has evolved rapidly over recent years providing insight into the tumorigenesis of many solid and haematological malignancies. Determination of epigenetic modifications in neuroendocrine tumour (NET) development is imperative if we are to improve our understanding of the biology of this heterogenous group of tumours. Epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation at RASSF1A are frequent findings in NETs of all origins and may be associated with worse prognosis. MicroRNA signatures and histone modifications have been identified which can differentiate subtypes of NET and distinguish NET from adenocarcinoma in cases of diagnostic uncertainty. Historically, candidate gene-driven approaches have yielded limited insight into the epigenetics of NET. Recent progress has been facilitated by development of high-throughput tools including second-generation sequencing and arrays for analysis of the ‘epigenome’ of tumour and normal tissue, permitting unbiased approaches such as exome sequencing that identified mutations of chromatin-remodelling genes ATRX/DAXX in 44% of pancreatic NETs. Epigenetic changes are reversible and therefore represent an attractive therapeutic target; to date, clinical outcomes of epigenetic therapies in solid tumours have been disappointing; however, in vitro studies on NETs are promising and further clinical trials are required to determine utility of this class of novel agents. In this review, we perform a comprehensive evaluation of epigenetic changes found in NETs to date, including rare NETs such as phaeochromocytoma and adrenocortical tumours. We suggest priorities for future research and discuss potential clinical applications and novel therapies.

Free access

Katja Kiseljak-Vassiliades, Yu Zhang, Stacey M Bagby, Adwitiya Kar, Nikita Pozdeyev, Mei Xu, Katherine Gowan, Vibha Sharma, Christopher D Raeburn, Maria Albuja-Cruz, Kenneth L Jones, Lauren Fishbein, Rebecca E Schweppe, Hilary Somerset, Todd M Pitts, Stephen Leong, and Margaret E Wierman

Adrenocortical cancer (ACC) is an orphan malignancy that results in heterogeneous clinical phenotypes and molecular genotypes. There are no curative treatments for this deadly cancer with 35% survival at five years. Our understanding of the underlying pathobiology and our ability to test novel therapeutic targets has been limited due to the lack of preclinical models. Here, we report the establishment of two new ACC cell lines and corresponding patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models. CU-ACC1 cell line and PDX were derived from a perinephric metastasis in a patient whose primary tumor secreted aldosterone. CU-ACC2 cell line and PDX were derived from a liver metastasis in a patient with Lynch syndrome. Short tandem repeat profiling confirmed consistent matches between human samples and models. Both exomic and RNA sequencing profiling were performed on the patient samples and the models, and hormonal secretion was evaluated in the new cell lines. RNA sequencing and immunohistochemistry confirmed the expression of adrenal cortex markers in the PDXs and human tumors. The new cell lines replicate two of the known genetic models of ACC. CU-ACC1 cells had a mutation in CTNNB1 and secreted cortisol but not aldosterone. CU-ACC2 cells had a TP53 mutation and loss of MSH2 consistent with the patient’s known germline mutation causing Lynch syndrome. Both cell lines can be transfected and transduced with similar growth rates. These new preclinical models of ACC significantly advance the field by allowing investigation of underlying molecular mechanisms of ACC and the ability to test patient-specific therapeutic targets.

Free access

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.

Free access

Michaela Luconi, Monica Mangoni, Stefania Gelmini, Giada Poli, Gabriella Nesi, Michela Francalanci, Nicola Pratesi, Giulia Cantini, Adriana Lombardi, Monica Pepi, Tonino Ercolino, Mario Serio, Claudio Orlando, and Massimo Mannelli

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare aggressive tumor with a poor prognosis. The lack of a specific and effective medical treatment is due to the poor knowledge of the mechanisms underlying tumor growth. Research on potential drugs able to specifically interfere with tumor proliferation is essential to develop more efficacious therapies. We evaluated for the first time the in vivo effect of rosiglitazone (RGZ), an anti-diabetic drug with in vitro anti-tumor properties, on ACC proliferation in a xenograft model obtained by s.c. injection of human ACC H295R cells in athymic mice. When the tumor size reached 5 mm, animals were allocated to 5 mg/kg RGZ- or water-treated groups. Tumor volume was measured twice a week. A significant reduction of tumor growth in RGZ versus control (control) group was observed and was already maximal following 17 day treatment (1−T/C=75.4% (43.7–93.8%)). After 31 days of treatment, mice were killed and tumor analyzed. Tumor histological evaluation revealed characteristics of invasiveness, richness in small vessels and mitotic figures in control group, while RGZ group tumors presented non infiltrating borders, few vessels, and many apoptotic bodies. Tumor immunohistochemistry showed that Ki-67 was reduced in RGZ versus control group. Quantitative real-time RT-PCR demonstrated a significant reduction in the expression of angiogenic (VEGF), vascular (CD31), proliferation (BMI-1), and anti-apoptotic (Bcl-2) genes in RGZ versus control group tumors. The same inhibitory effects were confirmed in in vitro RGZ-treated H295R. Our findings support and expand the role of RGZ in controlling ACC proliferation and angiogenesis in vivo and in vitro.