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Stephanie Espiard, Ludivine Drougat, Nikolaos Settas, Sara Haydar, Kerstin Bathon, Edra London, Isaac Levy, Fabio R Faucz, Davide Calebiro, Jérôme Bertherat, Dong Li, Michael A Levine, and Constantine A Stratakis

Genetic variants in components of the protein kinase A (PKA) enzyme have been associated with various defects and neoplasms in the context of Carney complex (CNC) and in isolated cases, such as in primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD), cortisol-producing adrenal adenomas (CPAs), and various cancers. PRKAR1A mutations have been found in subjects with impaired cAMP-dependent signaling and skeletal defects; bone tumors also develop in both humans and mice with PKA abnormalities. We studied the PRKACB gene in 148 subjects with PPNAD and related disorders, who did not have other PKA-related defects and identified two subjects with possibly pathogenic PRKACB gene variants and unusual bone and endocrine phenotypes. The first presented with bone and other abnormalities and carried a de novo c.858_860GAA (p.K286del) variant. The second subject carried the c.899C>T (p.T300M or p.T347M in another isoform) variant and had a PPNAD-like phenotype. Both variants are highly conserved in the PRKACB gene. In functional studies, the p.K286del variant affected PRKACB protein stability and led to increased PKA signaling. The p.T300M variant did not affect protein stability or response to cAMP and its pathogenicity remains uncertain. We conclude that PRKACB germline variants are uncommon but may be associated with phenotypes that resemble those of other PKA-related defects. However, detailed investigation of each variant is needed as PRKACB appears to be only rarely affected in these conditions, and variants such as p.T300M maybe proven to be clinically insignificant, whereas others (such as p.K286del) are clearly pathogenic and may be responsible for a novel syndrome, associated with endocrine and skeletal abnormalities.

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

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.

Free access

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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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

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.

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.

Free access

Yu-fang Bi, Rui-xin Liu, Lei Ye, Hai Fang, Xiao-ying Li, Wei-qing Wang, Ji Zhang, Kan-Kan Wang, Lei Jiang, Ting-wei Su, Zhong-yuan Chen, and Guang Ning

Although there has been increased knowledge about the molecular biology of neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), little is known about thymic carcinoids and even less about those with excessive hormone disorders, such as ectopic ACTH syndrome. This study was designed to gain insights into the molecular networks underlying the tumorigenesis of thymic carcinoids with ACTH secretion. By an approach integrating cDNA microarray and methods of computational biology, we compare gene expression profile between ACTH-producing thymic carcinoids and the normal thymus. In total, there are 63 biological categories increased and 108 decreased in thymic carcinoids. Cell proliferation was stimulated, which may explain the relatively uncontrolled cell growth of the tumor. Dysregulation of the Notch-signaling pathway was likely to be underlying the neuroendocrine features of this type of tumors. Moreover, inhibition of immunity and increased neuropeptide signaling molecules (POMC and its sorting molecule CPE) made the clinical manifestation reasonable and thus validated the array data. In conclusion, thymic carcinoids have a distinct gene expression pattern from the normal thymus, and they are characterized by deregulations of a series of biofunctions, which may be involved in the development of NETs. Hence, this study has provided not only a detailed comprehension of the molecular pathogenesis of thymic carcinoids with ectopic ACTH syndrome, but also a road map to approach thymic NETs at the system level.

Open access

Paula Sommer, Rachel L Cowen, Andrew Berry, Ann Cookson, Brian A Telfer, Kaye J Williams, Ian J Stratford, Paul Kay, Anne White, and David W Ray

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is an aggressive tumor, associated with ectopic ACTH syndrome. We have shown that SCLC cells are glucocorticoid receptor (GR) deficient, and that restoration of GR expression confers glucocorticoid sensitivity and induces apoptosis in vitro. To determine the effects of GR expression in vivo, we characterized a mouse SCLC xenograft model that secretes ACTH precursor peptides, and so drives high circulating corticosterone concentrations (analogous to the ectopic ACTH syndrome). Infection of SCLC xenografts with GR-expressing adenovirus significantly slowed tumor growth compared with control virus infection. Time to fourfold initial tumor volume increased from a median of 9 days to 16 days (P=0.05; n=7 per group). Post-mortem analysis of GR-expressing tumors revealed a threefold increase in apoptotic (TUNEL positive) cells (P<0.01). Infection with the GR-expressing adenovirus caused a significant reduction in Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL transcripts. Furthermore, in both the GR-expressing adenovirus-infected cells and tumors, a significant number of uninfected cells underwent apoptosis, supporting a bystander cell killing effect. Therefore, GR expression is pro-apoptotic for human SCLCs in vivo, as well as in vitro, suggesting that loss of GR confers a survival advantage to SCLCs.

Free access

Odelia Cooper, George Vlotides, Hidenori Fukuoka, Mark I Greene, and Shlomo Melmed

The role of ErbB family in discreet pituitary functions is reviewed. Several ErbB receptor ligands, EGF, TGFα, and heregulin are differentially expressed in normal gonadotroph and lacto-somatotroph lineages, and other elements of the anterior pituitary. ErbB receptors, i.e. EGFR and ErbB2, are also localized to the anterior pituitary with preferential EGFR lactosomatotroph expression. EGF regulates CRH and ACTH secretion and corticotroph proliferation as well as exhibiting autocrine and paracrine effects on gonadotrophs and on lactosomatotroph proliferation, gene and protein expression, and hormonal secretion. EGF and EGFR are expressed in both functioning and non-functioning pituitary adenomas, with higher expression in more aggressive tumor subtypes. ErbB2 receptor is detected in all tumor subtypes, particularly in invasive tumors. ErbB tyrosine kinase inhibitors regulate hormonal secretion, cell morphology, and proliferation in lacto-somatotroph tumors, reflecting the emerging application of targeted pituitary therapeutics.