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Free access

Adwitiya Kar, Yu Zhang, Betelehem W Yacob, Jordan Saeed, Kenneth D Tompkins, Stacey M Bagby, Todd M Pitts, Hilary Somerset, Stephen Leong, Margaret E Wierman, and Katja Kiseljak-Vassiliades

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is an aggressive orphan malignancy with less than 35% 5-year survival and 75% recurrence. Surgery remains the primary therapy and mitotane, an adrenolytic, is the only FDA-approved drug with wide-range toxicities and poor tolerability. There are no targeted agents available to date. For the last three decades, H295R cell line and its xenograft were the only available preclinical models. We recently developed two new ACC patient-derived xenograft mouse models and corresponding cell lines (CU-ACC1 and CU-ACC2) to advance research in the field. Here, we have utilized these novel models along with H295R cells to establish the mitotic PDZ-binding kinase (PBK) as a promising therapeutic target. PBK is overexpressed in ACC samples and correlates with poor survival. We show that PBK is regulated by FOXM1 and targeting PBK via shRNA decreased cell proliferation, clonogenicity and anchorage-independent growth in ACC cell lines. PBK silencing inhibited pAkt, pp38MAPK and pHistone H3 altering the cell cycle. Therapeutically, targeting PBK with the small-molecule inhibitor HITOPK032 phenocopied PBK-specific modulation of pAkt and pHistone H3, but also induced apoptosis via activation of JNK. Consistent with in vitro findings, treatment of CU-ACC1 PDXs with HITOPK032 significantly reduced tumor growth by 5-fold (P < 0.01). Treated tumor tissues demonstrated increased rates of apoptosis and JNK activation, with decreased pAkt and Histone H3 phosphorylation, consistent with effects observed in ACC cell lines. Together these studies elucidate the mechanism of PBK in ACC tumorigenesis and establish the potential therapeutic potential of HITOPK032 in ACC patients.

Free access

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.

Free access

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.

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.

Open access

Kate M Warde, Erik Schoenmakers, Eduardo Ribes Martinez, Yi Jan Lim, Maeve Leonard, Sarah J Lawless, Paula O’Shea, Krishna V Chatterjee, Mark Gurnell, Constanze Hantel, and Michael Conall Dennedy

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare aggressive malignancy with a poor outcome largely due to limited treatment options. Here, we propose a novel therapeutic approach through modulating intracellular free cholesterol via the liver X receptor alpha (LXRα) in combination with current first-line pharmacotherapy, mitotane. H295R and MUC-1 ACC cell lines were pretreated with LXRα inhibitors in combination with mitotane. In H295R, mitotane (20, 40 and 50 µM) induced dose-dependent cell death; however, in MUC-1, this only occurred at a supratherapeutic concentration (200 µM). LXRα inhibition potentiated mitotane-induced cytotoxicity in both cell lines. This was confirmed through use of the CompuSyn model which showed moderate pharmacological synergism and was indicative of apoptotic cell death via an increase in annexinV and cleaved-caspase 3 expression. Inhibition of LXRα was confirmed through downregulation of cholesterol efflux pumps ABCA1 and ABCG1; however, combination treatment with mitotane attenuated this effect. Intracellular free-cholesterol levels were associated with increased cytotoxicity in H295R (r 2 = 0.5210) and MUC-1 (r 2 = 0.9299) cells. While both cell lines exhibited similar levels of free cholesterol at baseline, H295R were cholesterol ester rich, whereas MUC-1 were cholesterol ester poor. We highlight the importance of LXRα mediated cholesterol metabolism in the management of ACC, drawing attention to its role in the therapeutics of mitotane sensitive tumours. We also demonstrate significant differences in cholesterol storage between mitotane sensitive and resistant disease.

Free access

Antonio M Lerario, Kazutaka Nanba, Amy R Blinder, Sachiko Suematsu, Masao Omura, Tetsuo Nishikawa, Thomas J Giordano, William E Rainey, and Tobias Else

Somatic variants in genes that regulate intracellular ion homeostasis have been identified in aldosterone-producing adenomas (APAs). Although the mechanisms leading to increased aldosterone production in APA cells have been well studied, the molecular events that cause cell proliferation and tumor formation are poorly understood. In the present study, we have performed whole-exome sequencing (WES) to characterize the landscape of somatic alterations in a homogeneous series of APA with pathogenic KCNJ5 variants. In the WES analysis on 11 APAs, 84 exonic somatic events were called by 3 different somatic callers. Besides the KCNJ5 gene, only two genes (MED13 and ZNF669) harbored somatic variants in more than one APA. Unlike adrenocortical carcinomas, no chromosomal instability was observed by the somatic copy-number alteration and loss of heterozygosity analyses. The estimated tumor purity ranged from 0.35 to 0.67, suggesting a significant proportion of normal cell infiltration. Based on the results of PureCN analysis, the KCNJ5 variants appear to be clonal. In conclusion, in addition to KCNJ5 somatic pathogenic variants, no significant somatic event that would obviously explain proliferation or tumor growth was observed in our homogeneous cohort of KCNJ5-mutated APA. The molecular mechanisms causing APA growth and tumorigenesis remain to be elucidated.

Open access

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

Deregulation of microRNA (miRNA) expression in adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs) has been documented to have diagnostic, prognostic, as well as functional implications. Here, we evaluated the mRNA expression of DROSHA, DGCR8, DICER (DICER1), TARBP2, and PRKRA, the core components in the miRNA biogenesis pathway, in a cohort of 73 adrenocortical tumors (including 43 adenomas and 30 carcinomas) and nine normal adrenal cortices using a RT-qPCR approach. Our results show a significant over-expression of TARBP2, DICER, and DROSHA in the carcinomas compared with adenomas or adrenal cortices (P<0.001 for all comparisons). Using western blot and immunohistochemistry analyses, we confirmed the higher expression of TARBP2, DICER, and DROSHA at the protein level in carcinoma cases. Furthermore, we demonstrate that mRNA expression of TARBP2, but not DICER or DROSHA, is a strong molecular predictor to discriminate between adenomas and carcinomas. Functionally, we showed that inhibition of TARBP2 expression in human NCI-H295R ACC cells resulted in a decreased cell proliferation and induction of apoptosis. TARBP2 over-expression was not related to gene mutations; however, copy number gain of the TARBP2 gene was observed in 57% of the carcinomas analyzed. In addition, we identified that miR-195 and miR-497 could directly regulate TARBP2 and DICER expression in ACC cells. This is the first study to demonstrate the deregulation of miRNA-processing factors in adrenocortical tumors and to show the clinical and biological impact of TARBP2 over-expression in this tumor type.

Free access

Lucas Leite Cunha, Marjory Alana Marcello, Vinicius Rocha-Santos, and Laura Sterian Ward

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are agents that act by inhibiting the mechanisms of immune escape displayed by various cancers. The success of immune checkpoint inhibitors against several tumors has promoted a new treatment strategy in clinical oncology, and this has encouraged physicians to increase the number of patients who receive the immune checkpoint therapy. In the present article, we review the main concepts regarding immune checkpoint mechanisms and how cancer disrupts them to undergo immune escape. In addition, we describe the most essential concepts related to immune checkpoint inhibitors. We critically review the literature on preclinical and clinical studies of the immune checkpoint inhibitors as a treatment option for thyroid cancer, ovarian carcinoma, pancreatic adenocarcinoma, adrenocortical carcinoma and neuroendocrine tumors. We present the challenges and the opportunities of using immune checkpoint inhibitors against these endocrine malignancies, highlighting the breakthroughs and pitfalls that have recently emerged.

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.

Open access

Roland Pfoh, Ira Kay Lacdao, and Vivian Saridakis

Deubiquitinases (DUBs) play important roles and therefore are potential drug targets in various diseases including cancer and neurodegeneration. In this review, we recapitulate structure–function studies of the most studied DUBs including USP7, USP22, CYLD, UCHL1, BAP1, A20, as well as ataxin 3 and connect them to regulatory mechanisms and their growing protein interaction networks. We then describe DUBs that have been associated with endocrine carcinogenesis with a focus on prostate, ovarian, and thyroid cancer, pheochromocytoma, and adrenocortical carcinoma. The goal is enhancing our understanding of the connection between dysregulated DUBs and cancer to permit the design of therapeutics and to establish biomarkers that could be used in diagnosis and prognosis.