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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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Fabio L Forti and Hugo A Armelin

Arginine vasopressin (AVP), a vasoactive peptide hormone that binds to three G-protein coupled receptors (V1R, V2R, and V3R), has long been known to activate V1R and elicit mitogenesis in several cell types, including adrenal glomerulosa cells. However, in the mouse Y1 adrenocortical malignant cell line, AVP triggers not only a canonical mitogenic response but also novel RhoA-GTP-dependent mechanisms which downregulate cyclin D1, irreversibly inhibiting K-ras oncogene-driven proliferation. In Y1 cells, AVP blocks cyclin D1 expression, induces senescence-associated β-galactosidase (SAβ-Gal) and inhibits proliferation. However, ectopic expression of cyclin D1 renders Y1 cells resistant to both SAβ-Gal induction and proliferation inhibition by AVP. In addition, ectopic expression of the dominant negative RhoAN19 mutant blocks RhoA activation, yielding Y1 cell sub-lines which are no longer susceptible to cyclin D1 downregulation, SAβ-Gal induction, or proliferation inhibition by AVP. Furthermore, inhibiting RhoA with C3 exoenzyme protects Y1 cells from AVP proliferation inhibition and SAβ-Gal induction. On the other hand, AVP treatment does not activate caspases 3 and 7, and the caspase inhibitor Ac-DEVD-CMK does not protect Y1 cells from proliferation inhibition by AVP, implying that AVP does not trigger apoptosis. These results underline a pivotal survival activity of cyclin D1 that protects K-ras oncogene-dependent malignant cells from senescence.

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Sara Jung, Zoltan Nagy, Martin Fassnacht, Gerard Zambetti, Max Weiss, Martin Reincke, Peter Igaz, Felix Beuschlein, and Constanze Hantel

Systemic therapy of adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is limited by heterogeneous tumor response and adverse effects. Recently, we demonstrated anti-tumor activity of LEDP-M (etoposide, liposomal doxorubicin, liposomal cisplatin, mitotane), a liposomal variant of EDP-M (etoposide, doxorubicin, cisplatin, mitotane). To improve the therapeutic efficacy and off-target profiles of the clinical gold standard EDP-M, we investigated liposomal EDP-M regimens in different preclinical settings and in a small number of ACC patients with very advanced disease. Short- and long-term experiments were performed on two ACC models (SW-13 and SJ-ACC3) in vivo. We evaluated the anti-tumoral effects and off-target profiles of EDP-M, LEDP-M and a novel regimen L(l)EDP-M including liposomal etoposide. Furthermore, the role of plasma microRNA-210 as a therapeutic biomarker and first clinical data were assessed. Classical and liposomal protocols revealed anti-proliferative efficacy against SW-13 (EDP-M P < 0.01; LEDP-M: P < 0.001; L(l)EDP-M: P < 0.001 vs controls), whereas in SJ-ACC3, only EDP-M (P < 0.05 vs controls) was slightly effective. Long-term experiments in SW-13 demonstrated anti-tumor efficacy for all treatment schemes (EDP-M: P < 0.01, LEDP-M: P < 0.05, L(l)EDP-M P < 0.001 vs controls). The analysis of pre-defined criteria leading to study termination revealed significant differences for control (P < 0.0001) and EDP-M (P = 0.003) compared to L(l)EDP-M treatment. Raising its potential for therapy monitoring, we detected elevated levels of circulating microRNA-210 in SW-13 after LEDP-M treatment (P < 0.05). In contrast, no comparable effects were detectable for SJ-ACC3. However, overall histological evaluation demonstrated improved off-target profiles following liposomal regimens. The first clinical data indicate improved tolerability of liposomal EDP-M, thus confirming our results. In summary, liposomal EDP-M regimens represent promising treatment options to improve clinical treatment of ACC.

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Anand Pathak, Douglas R Stewart, Fabio R Faucz, Paraskevi Xekouki, Sara Bass, Aurelie Vogt, Xijun Zhang, Joseph Boland, Meredith Yeager, Jennifer T Loud, Katherine L Nathanson, Katherine A McGlynn, Constantine A Stratakis, Mark H Greene, and Lisa Mirabello

Germline inactivating mutations of isoform 4 of phosphodiesterase (PDE) 11A (coded by the PDE11A gene) have been associated with familial adrenocortical tumors and familial testicular cancer. Testicular tissue is unique in expressing all four isoforms of PDE11A. In a prior candidate gene study of 94 familial testicular germ cell tumor (TGCT) subjects, we identified a significant association between the presence of functionally abnormal variants in PDE11A and familial TGCT risk. To validate this novel observation, we sequenced the PDE11A coding region in 259 additional TGCT patients (both familial and sporadic) and 363 controls. We identified 55 PDE11A variants: 20 missense, four splice-site, two nonsense, seven synonymous, and 22 intronic. Ten missense variants were novel; nine occurred in transcript variant 4 and one in transcript variant 3. Five rare mutations (p.F258Y, p.G291R, p.V820M, p.R545X, and p.K568R) were present only in cases and were significantly more common in cases vs controls (P=0.0037). The latter two novel variants were functionally characterized and shown to be functionally inactivating, resulting in reduced PDE activity and increased cAMP levels. In further analysis of this cohort, we focused on white participants only to minimize confounding due to population stratification. This study builds upon our prior reports implicating PDE11A variants in familial TGCT, provides the first independent validation of those findings, extends that work to sporadic testicular cancer, demonstrates that these variants are uncommonly but reproducibly associated with TGCT, and refines our understanding regarding which specific inactivating PDE11A variants are most likely to be associated with TGCT risk.

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Susanna Vuorenoja, Adolfo Rivero-Müller, Adam J Ziecik, Ilpo Huhtaniemi, Jorma Toppari, and Nafis A Rahman

Novel strategies are needed for the treatment of adrenocortical tumors that are usually resistant to chemotherapy. Hecate, a 23-amino acid lytic peptide, was conjugated to the 15-amino acid (81–95) fragment of the human chorionic gonadotropin β (CGβ) chain, which would selectively kill cancer cells expressing the LH receptor (LHR) sparing the normal ones with LHR. To prove the principle that Hecate-CGβ conjugate may eradicate tumors ectopically expressing plasma membrane receptors, transgenic (TG) inhibin α-subunit promoter (inhα)/Simian Virus 40 T-antigen mice, expressing LHR in their adrenal gland tumors, were used as the experimental model. Wild-type control littermates and TG mice with adrenal tumors were treated with either Hecate or Hecate-CGβ conjugate at the age of 6.5 months for 3 weeks and killed 7 days after the last treatment. The Hecate-CGβ conjugate reduced the adrenal tumor burden significantly in TG male but not in female mice, in comparison with Hecate-treated mice. Hecate-CGβ conjugate treatment did not affect normal adrenocortical function as the serum corticosterone level between Hecate and Hecate-CGβ conjugate groups were similar. The mRNA and protein expressions of GATA-4 and LHR colocalized only in tumor area, and a significant downregulation of gene expression was found after the Hecate-CGβ conjugate in comparison with Hecate- and/or non-treated adrenal tumors by western blotting. This finding provides evidence for a selective destruction of the tumor cells by the Hecate-CGβ conjugate. Hereby, our findings support the principle that Hecate-CGβ conjugate is able to specifically destroy tumor cells that ectopically express LHR.

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.

Free access

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.

Free access

Nunki Hassan, Jing Ting Zhao, Anthony Glover, Bruce G Robinson, and Stan B Sidhu

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) has high recurrence rates and poor prognosis with limited response to conventional cancer therapy. Recent contributions of high-throughput transcriptomic profiling identified microRNA-497 (miR-497) as significantly underexpressed, while lncRNA MALAT1 (metastasis-associated lung adenocarcinoma transcript 1) as overexpressed in ACC. miR-497 is located in the chromosomal region 17p13.1, in which there is a high frequency of loss of heterozygosity in ACC. We aim to investigate the interaction of miR-497 and MALAT1 in ACC and its functional roles in the process of tumourigenesis. In this study, we demonstrated miR-497 post-transcriptionally repressed MALAT1 while MALAT1 also competes for miR-497 binding to its molecular target, EIF4E (eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E). We showed that overexpression of miR-497 and silencing of MALAT1 suppressed cellular proliferation and induced cell cycle arrest through downregulation of EIF4E expression. Furthermore, MALAT1 directly binds to SFPQ (splicing factor proline and glutamine rich) protein, indicating its multifaceted roles in ACC pathophysiology. This is the first study to identify the feedback axis of miR-497-MALAT1/EIF4E in ACC tumourigenesis, providing novel insights into the molecular functions of noncoding RNAs in ACC.

Free access

Meenu Jain, Lisa Zhang, Mei He, Ya-Qin Zhang, Min Shen, and Electron Kebebew

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare but aggressive malignancy with no effective therapy for patients with unresectable disease. The aim of the current study was i) to evaluate TOP2A expression and function in human adrenocortical neoplasm and ACC cells and ii) to determine the anticancer activity of agents that target TOP2A. TOP2A mRNA and protein expression levels were evaluated in 112 adrenocortical tissue samples (21 normal adrenal cortex, 80 benign adrenocortical tumors, and 11 ACCs). In vitro siRNA knockdown of TOP2A in ACC cell lines (NCI-H295R and SW13) was used to determine its effect on cellular proliferation, cell cycle, anchorage-independent growth, and cellular invasion. We screened 14 TOP2A inhibitors for their anticancer activity in ACC cells. TOP2A mRNA and protein expression was significantly higher in ACC than in benign and normal adrenocortical tissue samples (P<0.05). Knockdown of TOP2A gene expression in ACC cell lines significantly decreased cell proliferation, anchorage-independent growth, and invasion (P<0.05). A screening assay in NCI-H295R cells showed that 11 of 14 TOP2A inhibitors had antiproliferative activity, 5 of the 14 TOP2A inhibitors had a higher antiproliferative activity than mitotane, and aclarubicin was the agent with the highest activity. Aclarubicin was validated to significantly decrease proliferation and tumor spheroid size in both NCI-H295R and SW13 ACC cell lines (P<0.05). Our results suggest that TOP2A is overexpressed in ACC, regulates cellular proliferation and invasion in ACC cells, and is an attractive target for ACC therapy. Of the TOP2A inhibitors screened, aclarubicin is a good candidate agent to test in future clinical trials for patients with locally advanced and metastatic ACC.

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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.