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Free access

Giada Poli, Daniele Guasti, Elena Rapizzi, Rossella Fucci, Letizia Canu, Alessandra Bandinelli, Nicoletta Cini, Daniele Bani, Massimo Mannelli, and Michaela Luconi

At present, mitotane (MTT) represents the first-line pharmacological approach for the treatment of advanced adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC). Despite clear evidence that the drug can reduce the clinical signs of steroid excess in secreting ACC, the mechanism mediating the possible toxic effect of MTT on tumor cells still remains obscure. This study investigated the intracellular events underlying the toxic effect of MTT by studying qualitative and quantitative alterations in mitochondrial morphology and functions in human adrenocortical cancer cell lines, H295R and SW13. Increasing concentrations of MTT resulted in rapid intracellular accumulation and conversion of the drug. Cytostatic and cytotoxic effects were evident at doses corresponding to the therapeutic window (30–50 μM) through an apoptotic mechanism involving caspase 3/7. Electron microscopic analysis of cell mitochondria displayed MTT-induced dose- and time-dependent alterations in the morphology of the organelle. These alterations were characterized by a marked swelling and a decrease in the number of respiratory cristae, accompanied by a significant depolarization of the mitochondrial membrane potential, finally leading to the disruption of the organelle. A drastic reduction of oxygen consumption was observed due to mitochondrial membrane damage, which was accompanied by a decrease in the levels of VDAC1 integral membrane channel. These findings contribute to better understand the intracellular mechanism of action of MTT in ACC cells, showing that its cytotoxic effect seems to be mainly mediated by an apoptotic process activated by the disruption of mitochondria.

Open access

K E Lines, P Filippakopoulos, M Stevenson, S Müller, H E Lockstone, B Wright, S Knapp, D Buck, C Bountra, and R V Thakker

Medical treatments for corticotrophinomas are limited, and we therefore investigated the effects of epigenetic modulators, a new class of anti-tumour drugs, on the murine adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting corticotrophinoma cell line AtT20. We found that AtT20 cells express members of the bromo and extra-terminal (BET) protein family, which bind acetylated histones, and therefore, studied the anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects of two BET inhibitors, referred to as (+)-JQ1 (JQ1) and PFI-1, using CellTiter Blue and Caspase Glo assays, respectively. JQ1 and PFI-1 significantly decreased proliferation by 95% (P < 0.0005) and 43% (P < 0.0005), respectively, but only JQ1 significantly increased apoptosis by >50-fold (P < 0.0005), when compared to untreated control cells. The anti-proliferative effects of JQ1 and PFI-1 remained for 96 h after removal of the respective compound. JQ1, but not PFI-1, affected the cell cycle, as assessed by propidium iodide staining and flow cytometry, and resulted in a higher number of AtT20 cells in the sub G1 phase. RNA-sequence analysis, which was confirmed by qRT-PCR and Western blot analyses, revealed that JQ1 treatment significantly altered expression of genes involved in apoptosis, such as NFκB, and the somatostatin receptor 2 (SSTR2) anti-proliferative signalling pathway, including SSTR2. JQ1 treatment also significantly reduced transcription and protein expression of the ACTH precursor pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) and ACTH secretion by AtT20 cells. Thus, JQ1 treatment has anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects on AtT20 cells and reduces ACTH secretion, thereby indicating that BET inhibition may provide a novel approach for treatment of corticotrophinomas.

Free access

Anna Angelousi, Eva Kassi, Narjes Ansari-Nasiri, Harpal Randeva, Gregory Kaltsas, and George Chrousos

Circadian rhythms at a central and peripheral level are operated by transcriptional/translational feedback loops involving a set of genes called ‘clock genes’ that have been implicated in the development of several diseases, including malignancies. Dysregulation of the Clock system can influence cancer susceptibility by regulating DNA damage and repair mechanisms, as well as apoptosis. A number of oncogenic pathways can be dysregulated via clock genes’ epigenetic alterations, including hypermethylation of clock genes’ promoters or variants of clock genes. Clock gene disruption has been studied in breast, lung and prostate cancer, and haematological malignancies. However, it is still not entirely clear whether clock gene disruption is the cause or the consequence of tumourigenesis and data in endocrine neoplasms are scarce. Recent findings suggest that clock genes are implicated in benign and malignant adrenocortical neoplasias. They have been also associated with follicular and papillary thyroid carcinomas and parathyroid adenomas, as well as pituitary adenomas and craniopharyngiomas. Dysregulation of clock genes is also encountered in ovarian and testicular tumours and may also be related with their susceptibility to chemotherapeutic agents. The most common clock genes that are implicated in endocrine neoplasms are PER1, CRY1; in most cases their expression is downregulated in tumoural compared to normal tissues. Although there is still a lot to be done for the better understanding of the role of clock genes in endocrine tumourigenenesis, existing evidence could guide research and help identify novel therapeutic targets aiming mainly at the peripheral components of the clock gene system.

Free access

Vassiliki Kotoula, Elias Sozopoulos, Helen Litsiou, Galinos Fanourakis, Triantafyllia Koletsa, Gerassimos Voutsinas, Sophia Tseleni-Balafouta, Constantine S Mitsiades, Axel Wellmann, and Nicholas Mitsiades

The serine/threonine kinase B-Raf plays a key role in the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK pathway that relays extracellular signals for cell proliferation and survival. Several types of human malignancies harbor activating BRAF mutations, most frequently a V600E substitution. The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a transmembrane tyrosine kinase (TK) receptor that mediates proliferation and survival signaling, is expressed in a wide variety of normal and neoplastic tissues. EGFR inhibitors have produced objective responses in patients with non-small cell lung carcinomas harboring activating EGFR TK domain somatic mutations. We evaluated the presence of mutations in BRAF (exons 11 and 15), KRAS (exons 1 and 2), NRAS (exons 1 and 2), and EGFR (exons 18–21) in adrenal carcinomas (35 tumor specimens and two cell lines) by DNA sequencing. BRAF mutations were found in two carcinomas (5.7%). Four carcinomas (11.4%) carried EGFR TK domain mutations. One specimen carried a KRAS mutation, and another carried two NRAS mutations. No mutations were found in the two adrenocortical cell lines. BRAF- and EGFR-mutant tumor specimens exhibited stronger immunostaining for the phosphorylated forms of the MEK and ERK kinases than their wild-type counterparts. EGFR-mutant carcinomas exhibited increased phosphorylation of EGFR (Tyr 992) compared with wild-type carcinomas. We conclude that BRAF, RAS, and EGFR mutations occur in a subset of human adrenocortical carcinomas. Inhibitors of the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK and EGFR pathways represent candidate targeted therapies for future clinical trials in carefully selected patients with adrenocortical carcinomas harboring respective activating mutations.

Free access

Cristina L Ronchi, Silviu Sbiera, Luitgard Kraus, Sebastian Wortmann, Sarah Johanssen, Patrick Adam, Holger S Willenberg, Stefanie Hahner, Bruno Allolio, and Martin Fassnacht

Therapeutic progress in adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is severely hampered by its low incidence. Platinum-based chemotherapies are the most effective cytotoxic treatment regimens in ACC but response rates remain <50%. In other tumor entities, expression of excision repair cross complementing group 1 (ERCC1) predicts resistance to platinum compounds. Therefore, we correlated ERCC1 protein expression and clinical outcome. We have retrolectively established adrenal tissue microarrays and analyzed prospectively samples from 163 ACCs, 15 benign adrenal adenomas, and 8 normal adrenal glands by immunohistochemistry for ERCC1 protein expression. Detailed clinical data were available by the German ACC Registry. ERCC1 protein was highly expressed in all normal adrenal glands, 14 benign tumors (93%) and in 75 ACCs (47%). In ACC, no differences in baseline parameters were found between patients with and without ERCC1 expression. Detection of ERCC1 was not correlated with survival in patients who never received platinum-based chemotherapy. In platinum-treated patients (n=45), objective response to platinum compounds was observed in 3/21 patients (14.3%) with high ERCC1 expression and in 7/24 patients (29.2%) with low ERCC1 expression (P=0.23). ERCC1 expression was strongly correlated with overall survival after platinum treatment (median: eight months in patients with high ERCC1 versus 24 months in low ERCC1 expression, hazard ratio (HR) 2.95 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.4–6.2), P=0.004). Multivariate analysis confirmed that high ERCC1 expression was a predictive factor for poor prognosis in platinum treated patients (HR 2.2, 95% CI 1.0–4.5, P=0.038). Our findings suggest that ERCC1 expression is the first factor for predicting survival in ACC patients treated with platinum-based chemotherapy.

Free access

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.

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 (r2 = 0.5210) and MUC-1 (r2 = 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

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.

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

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.