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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.

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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.

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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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Maria Cristina De Martino, Richard A Feelders, Wouter W de Herder, Peter M van Koetsveld, Fadime Dogan, Joseph A M J L Janssen, A Marlijn Waaijers, Claudia Pivonello, Steven W J Lamberts, Annamaria Colao, Ronald R de Krijger, Rosario Pivonello, and Leo J Hofland

The mTOR pathway has recently been suggested as a new potential target for therapy in adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs). The aim of the current study is to describe the expression of the mTOR pathway in normal adrenals (NAs) and pathological adrenals and to explore whether there are correlation between the expression of these proteins and the in vitro response to sirolimus. For this purpose, the MTOR, S6K1 (RPS6KB1), and 4EBP1 (EIF4EBP1) mRNA expression were evaluated in ten NAs, ten adrenal hyperplasias (AHs), 17 adrenocortical adenomas (ACAs), and 17 ACCs by qPCR, whereas total(t)/phospho(p)-MTOR, t/p-S6K, and t/p-4EBP1 protein expression were assessed in three NAs, three AHs, six ACAs, and 20 ACCs by immunohistochemistry. The effects of sirolimus on cell survival and/or cortisol secretion in 12 human primary cultures of adrenocortical tumors (ATs) were also evaluated. In NAs and AHs, layer-specific expression of evaluated proteins was observed. S6K1 mRNA levels were lower in ACCs compared with NAs, AHs, and ACAs (P<0.01). A subset of ATs presented a moderate to high staining of the evaluated proteins. Median t-S6K1 protein expression in ACCs was lower than that in ACAs (P<0.01). Moderate to high staining of p-S6K1 and/or p-4EBP1 was observed in most ATs. A subset of ACCs not having moderate to high staining had a higher Weiss score than others (P<0.029). In primary AT cultures, sirolimus significantly reduced cell survival or cortisol secretion only in sporadic cases. In conclusion, these data suggest the presence of an activated mTOR pathway in a subset of ATs and a possible response to sirolimus only in certain ACC cases.

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Patricia de Cremoux, Dan Rosenberg, Jacques Goussard, Catherine Brémont-Weil, Frédérique Tissier, Carine Tran-Perennou, Lionnel Groussin, Xavier Bertagna, Jérôme Bertherat, and Marie-Laure Raffin-Sanson

Adrenal tumors occur more frequently in women and are the leading cause of Cushing's syndrome during pregnancy. We aimed to evaluate the potential role of sex steroids in the susceptibility of women to adrenocortical tumors. We evaluated the presence of the progesterone receptor (PR), estradiol receptors (ERs), and aromatase in 5 patients with primary pigmented nodular adrenal disease (PPNAD), 15 adrenocortical adenomas (ACAs) and adjacent normal tissues, 12 adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs), and 3 normal adrenal glands (NA). The expression of PR and ERα was evaluated by enzyme immunoassays, real-time RT-PCR, immunohistochemistry, and cytosol-based ligand-binding assays. ERβ and aromatase levels were evaluated by real-time RT-PCR. ERα concentrations were low in NA, in adrenal tissues adjacent to ACA (51±33), in ACC (53±78), and lower in ACA (11±11 fmol/mg DNA). Conversely, PR concentrations were high in NA and adrenal tissues adjacent to ACA, at 307±216 fmol/mg DNA, and were even higher in tumors – 726±706 fmol/mg DNA in ACA and 1154±1586 fmol/mg DNA in ACC – and in isolated PPNAD nodules. Binding study results in four tumors were compatible with binding to a steroid receptor. In patients with PPNAD, a strong positive immunohistochemical signal was associated with the sole isolated nodular regions. ERβ transcript levels were very high in all samples except those for two ACCs, whereas aromatase levels were low. PR and ERβ are clearly present in normal adrenal glands and adrenal tumors. Further studies may shed light on the possible pathogenic role of these receptors in adrenal proliferation.

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I Bossis, A Voutetakis, T Bei, F Sandrini, K J Griffin, and C A Stratakis

The type 1 alpha regulatory subunit (R1alpha) of cAMP-dependent protein kinase A (PKA) (PRKAR1A) is an important regulator of the serine-threonine kinase activity catalyzed by the PKA holoenzyme. Carney complex (CNC) describes the association 'of spotty skin pigmentation, myxomas, and endocrine overactivity'; CNC is in essence the latest form of multiple endocrine neoplasia to be described and affects the pituitary, thyroid, adrenal and gonadal glands. Primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD), a micronodular form of bilateral adrenal hyperplasia that causes a unique, inherited form of Cushing syndrome, is also the most common endocrine manifestation of CNC. CNC and PPNAD are genetically heterogeneous but one of the responsible genes is PRKAR1A, at least for those families that map to 17q22-24 (the chromosomal region that harbors PRKAR1A). CNC and/or PPNAD are the first human diseases to be caused by mutations in one of the subunits of the PKA holoenzyme. Despite the extensive literature on R1alpha and PKA, little is known about their potential involvement in cell cycle regulation, growth and/or proliferation. The presence of inactivating germline mutations and the loss of its wild-type allele in CNC lesions indicated that PRKAR1A could function as a tumor-suppressor gene in these tissues. However, there are conflicting data in the literature about PRKAR1A's role in human neoplasms, cancer cell lines and animal models. In this report, we review briefly the genetics of CNC and focus on the involvement of PRKAR1A in human tumorigenesis in an effort to reconcile the often diametrically opposite reports on R1alpha.

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

A Stigliano, L Cerquetti, M Borro, G Gentile, B Bucci, S Misiti, P Piergrossi, E Brunetti, M Simmaco, and V Toscano

Mitotane, 1,1-dichloro-2-(o-chlorophenyl)-2-(p-chloro-phenyl) ethane (o,p′-DDD), is a compound that represents the effective agent in the treatment of the adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), able to block cortisol synthesis. In this type of cancer, the biological mechanism induced by this treatment remains still unknown. In this study, we have already shown a greater impairment in the first steps of the steroidogenesis and recognized a little effect on cell cycle. We also evaluated the variation of proteomic profile of the H295R ACC cell line, either in total cell extract or in mitochondria-enriched fraction after treatment with mitotane. In total cell extracts, triose phosphate isomerase, α-enolase, D-3-phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase, peroxiredoxin II and VI, heat shock protein 27, prohibitin, histidine triad nucleotide-binding protein, and profilin-1 showed a different expression. In the mitochondrial fraction, the following proteins appeared to be down regulated: aldolase A, peroxiredoxin I, heterogenous nuclear ribonucleoprotein A2/B1, tubulin-β isoform II, heat shock cognate 71 kDa protein, and nucleotide diphosphate kinase, whereas adrenodoxin reductase, cathepsin D, and heat shock 70 kDa protein 1A were positively up-regulated. This study represents the first proteomic study on the mitotane effects on ACC. It permits to identify some protein classes affected by the drug involved in energetic metabolism, stress response, cytoskeleton structure, and tumorigenesis.

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Zsófia Tömböl, Peter M Szabó, Viktor Molnár, Zoltán Wiener, Gergely Tölgyesi, János Horányi, Peter Riesz, Peter Reismann, Attila Patócs, István Likó, Rolf-Christian Gaillard, András Falus, Károly Rácz, and Peter Igaz

MicroRNAs (miRs) are involved in the pathogenesis of several neoplasms; however, there are no data on their expression patterns and possible roles in adrenocortical tumors. Our objective was to study adrenocortical tumors by an integrative bioinformatics analysis involving miR and transcriptomics profiling, pathway analysis, and a novel, tissue-specific miR target prediction approach. Thirty-six tissue samples including normal adrenocortical tissues, benign adenomas, and adrenocortical carcinomas (ACC) were studied by simultaneous miR and mRNA profiling. A novel data-processing software was used to identify all predicted miR–mRNA interactions retrieved from PicTar, TargetScan, and miRBase. Tissue-specific target prediction was achieved by filtering out mRNAs with undetectable expression and searching for mRNA targets with inverse expression alterations as their regulatory miRs. Target sets and significant microarray data were subjected to Ingenuity Pathway Analysis. Six miRs with significantly different expression were found. miR-184 and miR-503 showed significantly higher, whereas miR-511 and miR-214 showed significantly lower expression in ACCs than in other groups. Expression of miR-210 was significantly lower in cortisol-secreting adenomas than in ACCs. By calculating the difference between dCTmiR-511 and dCTmiR-503 (delta cycle threshold), ACCs could be distinguished from benign adenomas with high sensitivity and specificity. Pathway analysis revealed the possible involvement of G2/M checkpoint damage in ACC pathogenesis. To our knowledge, this is the first report describing miR expression patterns and pathway analysis in sporadic adrenocortical tumors. miR biomarkers may be helpful for the diagnosis of adrenocortical malignancy. This tissue-specific target prediction approach may be used in other tumors too.

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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.