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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.

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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.

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Eva Szarek, Evan R Ball, Alessio Imperiale, Maria Tsokos, Fabio R Faucz, Alessio Giubellino, François-Marie Moussallieh, Izzie-Jacques Namer, Mones S Abu-Asab, Karel Pacak, David Taïeb, J Aidan Carney, and Constantine A Stratakis

Carney triad (CTr) describes the association of paragangliomas (PGL), pulmonary chondromas, and gastrointestinal (GI) stromal tumors (GISTs) with a variety of other lesions, including pheochromocytomas and adrenocortical tumors. The gene(s) that cause CTr remain(s) unknown. PGL and GISTs may be caused by loss-of-function mutations in succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) (a condition known as Carney–Stratakis syndrome (CSS)). Mitochondrial structure and function are abnormal in tissues that carry SDH defects, but they have not been studied in CTr. For the present study, we examined mitochondrial structure in human tumors and GI tissue (GIT) of mice with SDH deficiency. Tissues from 16 CTr tumors (n=12), those with isolated GIST (n=1), and those with CSS caused by SDHC (n=1) and SDHD (n=2) mutations were studied by electron microscopy (EM). Samples of GIT from mice with a heterozygous deletion in Sdhb (Sdhb + /−, n=4) were also studied by EM. CTr patients presented with mostly epithelioid GISTs that were characterized by plump cells containing a centrally located, round nucleus and prominent nucleoli; these changes were almost identical to those seen in the GISTs of patients with SDH. In tumor cells from patients, regardless of diagnosis or tumor type, cytoplasm contained an increased number of mitochondria with a ‘hypoxic’ phenotype: mitochondria were devoid of cristae, exhibited structural abnormalities, and were of variable size. Occasionally, mitochondria were small and round; rarely, they were thin and elongated with tubular cristae. Many mitochondria exhibited amorphous fluffy material with membranous whorls or cystic structures. A similar mitochondrial hypoxic phenotype was seen in Sdhb + /− mice. We concluded that tissues from SDH-deficient tumors, those from mouse GIT, and those from CTr tumors shared identical abnormalities in mitochondrial structure and other features. Thus, the still-elusive CTr defect(s) is(are) likely to affect mitochondrial function, just like germline SDH-deficiency does.

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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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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.

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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.

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Bruno Ragazzon, Guillaume Assié, and Jérôme Bertherat

Transcriptome analysis has been successfully used to study the gene profile expression of adrenocortical tumors (ACT) for 7 years. The various studies reported to date have produced an abundance of new information on adrenocortical cancer (ACC), underlying the validity of this approach to study the molecular genetics and pathogenesis of these tumors. The gene expression profile of ACC clearly differs from that of benign adrenocortical adenomas (ACA). Interestingly, transcriptome analysis has the ability to establish a subclassification of ACC based on the gene expression profile. In particular, it is able to identify two groups of tumors with different outcomes (i.e. good prognosis and poor prognosis). This approach has been used to develop molecular markers for ACC diagnosis and prognostication. An IGF2 cluster of genes up-regulated in ACC has been identified. Transcriptome analysis has shown that, in comparison with ACA, IGF2 is indeed the gene most overexpressed in ACC. By contrast, genes associated with steroidogenesis are down-regulated in ACC. Genes controlling the cell cycle are dysregulated in ACC, and several are dramatically overexpressed. Analysis regarding the level of expression of Wnt/β-catenin and p53 signaling has shown alterations, in keeping with the known molecular somatic genetic defects of these pathways that are observed in ACC. This review summarizes the main findings of studies reporting ACC transcriptome analysis, demonstrating its power for ACT classification, and examines the resulting progress in understanding the pathogenesis of ACC. The potential for both ACC diagnosis and the identification of new therapeutic targets will be discussed.

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Régia Caroline Peixoto Lira, Paola Fernanda Fedatto, David Santos Marco Antonio, Letícia Ferro Leal, Carlos Eduardo Martinelli, Margaret de Castro, Silvio Tucci, Luciano Neder, Leandra Ramalho, Ana Luiza Seidinger, Izilda Cardinalli, Maria José Mastellaro, José Andres Yunes, Silvia Regina Brandalise, Luiz Gonzaga Tone, Sonir Roberto Rauber Antonini, and Carlos Alberto Scrideli

Deregulation of the IGF system observed in human tumors indicates a role in malignant cell transformation and in tumor cell proliferation. Although overexpression of the IGF2 and IGF1R genes was described in adrenocortical tumors (ACTs), few studies reported their profiles in pediatric ACTs. In this study, the IGF2 and IGF1R expression was evaluated by RT-qPCR according to the patient’s clinical/pathological features in 60 pediatric ACT samples, and IGF1R protein was investigated in 45 samples by immunohistochemistry (IHC). Whole transcriptome and functional assays were conducted after IGF1R inhibition with OSI-906 in NCI-H295A cell line. Significant IGF2 overexpression was found in tumor samples when compared with non-neoplastic samples (P<0.001), significantly higher levels of IGF1R in patients with relapse/metastasis (P=0.031) and moderate/strong IGF1R immunostaining in 62.2% of ACTs, but no other relationship with patient survival and clinical/pathological features was observed. OSI-906 treatment downregulated genes associated with MAPK activity, induced limited reduction of cell viability and increased the apoptosis rate. After 24h, the treatment also decreased the expression of genes related to the steroid biosynthetic process, the protein levels of the steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (STAR), and androgen secretion in cell medium, supporting the role of IGF1R in steroidogenesis of adrenocortical carcinoma cells. Our data showed that the IGF1R overexpression could be indicative of aggressive ACTs in children. However, in vitro treatments with high concentrations of OSI-906 (>1μM) showed limited reduction of cell viability, suggesting that OSI-906 alone could not be a suitable therapy to abolish carcinoma cell growth.

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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.

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Enzo Lalli and Michaela Luconi

Endocrine tumors have the peculiarity to become clinically evident not only due to symptoms related to space occupation by the growing lesion, similarly to most other tumors, but also, and most often, because of their specific hormonal secretion, which significantly contributes to their pathological burden. Malignant endocrine tumors, in addition, have the ability to produce distant metastases. Here, we critically review the current knowledge about mechanisms and biomarkers characterizing the metastatic process in adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), a rare endocrine malignancy with a high risk of relapse and metastatization even when the primary tumor is diagnosed and surgically removed at an early stage. We highlight perspectives of future research in the domain and possible new therapeutic avenues based on targeting factors having an important role in the metastatic process of ACC.