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Fady Hannah-Shmouni, Annabel Berthon, Fabio R Faucz, Juan Medina Briceno, Andrea Gutierrez Maria, Andrew Demidowich, Mirko Peitzsch, Jimmy Masjkur, Fidéline Bonnet-Serrano, Anna Vaczlavik, Jérôme Bertherat, Martin Reincke, Graeme Eisenhofer, and Constantine A Stratakis

Biochemical characterization of primary bilateral macronodular adrenocortical hyperplasia (PBMAH) by distinct plasma steroid profiles and its putative correlation to disease has not been previously studied. LC-MS/MS–based steroid profiling of 16 plasma steroids was applied to 36 subjects (22 females, 14 males) with PBMAH, 19 subjects (16 females, 3 males) with other forms of adrenal Cushing's syndrome (ACS), and an age and sex-matched control group. Germline ARMC5 sequencing was performed in all PBMAH cases. Compared to controls, PBMAH showed increased plasma 11-deoxycortisol, corticosterone, 11-deoxycorticosterone, 18-hydroxycortisol, and aldosterone, but lower progesterone, DHEA, and DHEA-S with distinct differences in subjects with and without pathogenic variants in ARMC5. Steroids that showed isolated differences included cortisol and 18-oxocortisol with higher (P < 0.05) concentrations in ACS than in controls and aldosterone with higher concentrations in PBMAH when compared to controls. Larger differences in PBMAH than with ACS were most clear for corticosterone, but there were also trends in this direction for 18-hydroxycortisol and aldosterone. Logistic regression analysis indicated four steroids – DHEA, 11-deoxycortisol, 18-oxocortisol, and corticosterone – with the most power for distinguishing the groups. Discriminant analyses with step-wise variable selection indicated correct classification of 95.2% of all subjects of the four groups using a panel of nine steroids; correct classification of subjects with and without germline variants in ARMC5 was achieved in 91.7% of subjects with PBMAH. Subjects with PBMAH show distinctive plasma steroid profiles that may offer a supplementary single-test alternative for screening purposes.

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Stephen J Marx

Five syndromes share predominantly hyperplastic glands with a primary excess of hormones: neonatal severe primary hyperparathyroidism, from homozygous mutated CASR, begins severely in utero; congenital non-autoimmune thyrotoxicosis, from mutated TSHR, varies from severe with fetal onset to mild with adult onset; familial male-limited precocious puberty, from mutated LHR, expresses testosterone oversecretion in young boys; hereditary ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, from mutated FSHR, expresses symptomatic systemic vascular permeabilities during pregnancy; and familial hyperaldosteronism type IIIA, from mutated KCNJ5, presents in young children with hypertension and hypokalemia. The grouping of these five syndromes highlights predominant hyperplasia as a stable tissue endpoint and as their tissue stage for all of the hormone excess. Comparisons were made among this and two other groups of syndromes, forming a continuum of gland staging: predominant oversecretions express little or no hyperplasia; predominant hyperplasias express little or no neoplasia; and predominant neoplasias express nodules, adenomas, or cancers. Hyperplasias may progress (5 of 5) to neoplastic stages while predominant oversecretions rarely do (1 of 6; frequencies differ P<0.02). Hyperplasias do not show tumor multiplicity (0 of 5) unlike neoplasias that do (13 of 19; P<0.02). Hyperplasias express mutation of a plasma membrane-bound sensor (5 of 5), while neoplasias rarely do (3 of 14; P<0.002). In conclusion, the multiple distinguishing themes within the hyperplasias establish a robust pathophysiology. It has the shared and novel feature of mutant sensors in the plasma membrane, suggesting that these are major contributors to hyperplasia.

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Y de Keyzer, D Vieau, A Picon, and X Bertagna

Cushing's syndrome refers to the manifestations induced by chronic exposure to glucocorticoid excess and may result from various causes that are all associated with tumors. The most frequent one, that which was first recognized by Harvey Cushing (Cushing 1932) – and therefore called Cushing's disease – is due to adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) hypersecretion by a pituitary corticotrope adenoma; the ectopic ACTH syndrome is another, much rarer (∼5-10%) one, caused by a variety of so-called ACTH-secreting non-pituitary tumors; finally, approximately 30% of Cushing's syndromes are ACTH-non-dependent, caused by primary adrenocortical tumors, most often unilateral and either benign or malignant. The first case of ectopic ACTH syndrome was probably reported by Brown (1928) who described the case of a bearded woman with diabetes. At that time the author had no idea that ACTH existed. The discovery of ACTH, the development of an ACTH bioassay, and the pioneering work of Liddle's group eventually led
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Paraskevi Xekouki, Michael M Hatch, Lin Lin, De Alexandre Rodrigo, Monalisa Azevedo, Maria de la Luz Sierra, Isaac Levy, Emmanouil Saloustros, Andreas Moraitis, Anelia Horvath, E Kebebew, Dax A Hoffman, and Constantine A Stratakis

KCNJ5 mutations were recently described in primary hyperaldosteronism (PH or Conn's syndrome). The frequency of these mutations in PH and the way KCNJ5 defects cause disease remain unknown. A total of 53 patients with PH have been seen at the National Institutes of Health over the last 12 years. Their peripheral and tumor DNAs (the latter from 16 that were operated) were screened for KCNJ5 mutations; functional studies on the identified defects were performed after transient transfection. Only two mutations were identified, and both in the tumor DNA only. There were no germline sequencing defects in any of the patients except for known synonymous variants of the KCNJ5 gene. One mutation was the previously described c.G451C alteration; the other was a novel one in the same codon: c.G451A; both lead to the same amino acid substitution (G151R) in the KCNJ5 protein. Functional studies confirmed previous findings that both mutations caused loss of channel selectivity and a positive shift in the reversal potential. In conclusion, the KCNJ5 protein was strongly expressed in the zona glomerulosa of normal adrenal glands but showed variable expression in the aldosterone-producing adenomas with and without mutation. The rate of KCNJ5 mutations among patients with PH and/or their tumors is substantially lower than what was previously reported. The G151R amino acid substitution appears to be the most frequent one so far detected in PH, despite additional nucleotide changes. The mutation causes loss of this potassium channel's selectivity and may assist in the design of new therapies for PH.

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R van der Pas, W W de Herder, L J Hofland, and R A Feelders

Cushing's syndrome (CS) is a severe endocrine disorder characterized by chronic cortisol excess due to an ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma, ectopic ACTH production, or a cortisol-producing adrenal neoplasia. Regardless of the underlying cause, untreated CS is associated with considerable morbidity and mortality. Surgery is the primary therapy for all causes of CS, but surgical failure and ineligibility of the patient to undergo surgery necessitate alternative treatment modalities. The role of medical therapy in CS has been limited because of lack of efficacy or intolerability. In recent years, however, new targets for medical therapy have been identified, both at the level of the pituitary gland (e.g. somatostatin, dopamine, and epidermal growth factor receptors) and the adrenal gland (ectopically expressed receptors in ACTH-independent macronodular adrenal hyperplasia). In this review, results of preclinical and clinical studies with drugs that exert their action through these molecular targets, as well as already established medical treatment options, will be discussed.

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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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Giampaolo Trivellin, Ricardo R Correa, Maria Batsis, Fabio R Faucz, Prashant Chittiboina, Ivana Bjelobaba, Darwin O Larco, Martha Quezado, Adrian F Daly, Stanko S Stojilkovic, T John Wu, Albert Beckers, Maya B Lodish, and Constantine A Stratakis

Cushing’s disease (CD) in children is caused by adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting pituitary adenomas. Germline or somatic mutations in genes such as MEN1, CDKIs, AIP, and USP8 have been identified in pediatric CD, but the genetic defects in a significant percentage of cases are still unknown. In this study, we investigated the orphan G-protein-coupled receptor GPR101, a gene known to be involved in somatotropinomas, for its possible involvement in corticotropinomas. We performed GPR101 sequencing, expression analyses by RT-qPCR and immunostaining, and functional studies (cell proliferation, pituitary hormone secretion, and cAMP measurement) in a series of patients with sporadic CD secondary to ACTH-secreting adenomas in whom we extracted DNA from peripheral blood and pituitary tumor samples (n=36). No increased GPR101 expression was observed in tumors compared with normal pituitary (NP) tissues, nor did we find a correlation between GPR101 and ACTH expression levels. Sequence analysis revealed a very rare germline heterozygous GPR101 variant (p.G31S) in one patient with CD. Overexpression of the p.G31S variant did not lead to increased growth and proliferation, although modest effects on cAMP signaling were observed. GPR101 is not overexpressed in ACTH-secreting tumors compared with NPs. In conclusion, rare germline GPR101 variant was found in one patient with CD, but in vitro studies did not support a consistent pathogenic effect. GPR101 is unlikely to be involved in the pathogenesis of CD.

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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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Sisi Liu, Emmanouil Saloustros, Annabel Berthon, Matthew F Starost, Isabelle Sahut-Barnola, Paraskevi Salpea, Eva Szarek, Fabio R Faucz, Antoine Martinez, and Constantine A Stratakis

Primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD), whether in the context of Carney complex (CNC) or isolated, leads to ACTH-independent Cushing's syndrome (CS). CNC and PPNAD are caused typically by inactivating mutations of PRKAR1A, a gene coding for the type 1a regulatory subunit (R1α) of cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA). Mice lacking Prkar1a, specifically in the adrenal cortex (AdKO) developed CS caused by bilateral adrenal hyperplasia (BAH), which is formed from the abnormal proliferation of fetal-like adrenocortical cells. Celecoxib is a cyclooxygenase 2 (COX2) inhibitor. In bone, Prkar1a inhibition is associated with COX2 activation and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) production that, in turn, activates proliferation of bone stromal cells. We hypothesized that COX2 inhibition may have an effect in PPNAD. In vitro treatment of human cell lines, including one from a patient with PPNAD, with celecoxib resulted in decreased cell viability. We then treated AdKO and control mice with 1500 mg/kg celecoxib or vehicle. Celecoxib treatment led to decreased PGE2 and corticosterone levels, reduced proliferation and increased apoptosis of adrenocortical cells, and decreased steroidogenic gene expression. We conclude that, in vitro and in vivo, celecoxib led to decreased steroidogenesis. In a mouse model of PPNAD, celecoxib caused histological changes that, at least in part, reversed BAH and this was associated with a reduction of corticosterone levels.