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Maho Shibata and Michael M Shen

The cancer stem cell model proposes that tumors have a hierarchical organization in which tumorigenic cells give rise to non-tumorigenic cells, with only a subset of stem-like cells able to propagate the tumor. In the case of prostate cancer, recent analyses of genetically engineered mouse (GEM) models have provided evidence supporting the existence of cancer stem cells in vivo. These studies suggest that cancer stem cells capable of tumor propagation exist at various stages of tumor progression from prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN) to advanced metastatic and castration-resistant disease. However, studies of stem cells in prostate cancer have been limited by available approaches for evaluating their functional properties in cell culture and transplantation assays. Given the role of the tumor microenvironment and the putative cancer stem cell niche, future studies using GEM models to analyze cancer stem cells in their native tissue microenvironment are likely to be highly informative.

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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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Iuri Martin Goemann, Vicente Rodrigues Marczyk, Mirian Romitti, Simone Magagnin Wajner, and Ana Luiza Maia

Thyroid hormones (THs) are essential for the regulation of several metabolic processes and the energy consumption of the organism. Their action is exerted primarily through interaction with nuclear receptors controlling the transcription of thyroid hormone-responsive genes. Proper regulation of TH levels in different tissues is extremely important for the equilibrium between normal cellular proliferation and differentiation. The iodothyronine deiodinases types 1, 2 and 3 are key enzymes that perform activation and inactivation of THs, thus controlling TH homeostasis in a cell-specific manner. As THs seem to exert their effects in all hallmarks of the neoplastic process, dysregulation of deiodinases in the tumoral context can be critical to the neoplastic development. Here, we aim at reviewing the deiodinases expression in different neoplasias and exploit the mechanisms by which they play an essential role in human carcinogenesis. TH modulation by deiodinases and other classical pathways may represent important targets with the potential to oppose the neoplastic process.

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Thomas J Giordano

The classification of human cancers represents one of the cornerstones of modern pathology. Over the last century, surgical pathologists established the current taxonomy of neoplasia using traditional histopathological parameters, which include tumor architecture, cytological features and cellular proliferation. This morphological classification is efficient and robust with high reproducibility and has served patients and health care providers well. The most recent decade has witnessed an explosion of genome-wide molecular genetic and epigenetic data for most cancers, including tumors of endocrine organs. The availability of this expansive multi-dimensional genomic data, collectively termed the cancer genome, has catalyzed a re-examination of the classification of endocrine tumors. Here, recent cancer genome studies of various endocrine tumors, including those of the thyroid, pituitary and adrenal glands, pancreas, small bowel, lung and skin, are presented with special emphasis on how genomic insights are impacting endocrine tumor classification.

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Eric Monsalves, Kyle Juraschka, Toru Tateno, Sameer Agnihotri, Sylvia L Asa, Shereen Ezzat, and Gelareh Zadeh

Pituitary adenomas are common intracranial neoplasms. Patients with these tumors exhibit a wide range of clinically challenging problems, stemming either from results of sellar mass effect in pituitary macroadenoma or the diverse effects of aberrant hormone production by adenoma cells. While some patients are cured/controlled by surgical resection and/or medical therapy, a proportion of patients exhibit tumors that are refractory to current modalities. New therapeutic approaches are needed for these patients. Activation of the AKT/phophotidylinositide-3-kinase pathway, including mTOR activation, is common in human neoplasia, and a number of therapeutic approaches are being employed to neutralize activation of this pathway in human cancer. This review examines the role of this pathway in pituitary tumors with respect to tumor biology and its potential role as a therapeutic target.

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Balaji Ramachandran

Repeated parity and usage of oral contraceptives have demonstrated an increased risk of cervical cancer (CC) in HPV-infected women. These lifestyle observations raise the likelihood that oestrogens and HPV infection might act synergistically to affect cancers of the cervix. In vivo studies have indicated the requirement of oestrogens and ERα in the development of atypical squamous metaplasia followed by cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) I, II and III. CIN II and III are precancerous cervical lesions that can progress over time to CC as an invasive carcinoma. Recently, there has been evidence suggesting that ERα signalling in the tumour epithelium is a preliminary requisite during cancer initiation that is subsequently lost during tumorigenic progression. Conversely, continued expression of stromal ERα gains control over tumour maintenance. This review summarises the current information on the association between oestrogens and HPV infection in contributing to CC and the possibility of SERMs as a therapeutic option.

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Balaji Ramachandran, Alessia Stell, Luca Maravigna, Adriana Maggi, and Paolo Ciana

Sex hormones modulate proliferation, apoptosis, migration, metastasis and angiogenesis in cancer cells influencing tumourigenesis from the early hyperplastic growth till the end-stage metastasis. Although decades of studies have detailed these effects at the level of molecular pathways, where and when these actions are needed for the growth and progression of hormone-dependent neoplasia is poorly elucidated. Investigation of the hormone influences in carcinogenesis in the spatio-temporal dimension is expected to unravel critical steps in tumour progression and in the onset of resistance to hormone therapies. Non-invasive in vivo imaging represents a powerful tool to follow in time hormone signalling in the whole body during tumour development. This review summarizes the tools currently available to follow hormone action in living organisms.

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Jaesung (Peter) Choi, Yu Zheng, David J Handelsman, and Ulla Simanainen

Phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) deletion induces uterine pathology, whereas androgen actions via androgen receptor (AR) support uterine growth and therefore may modify uterine cancer risk. We hypothesized that the androgen actions mediated via uterine glandular epithelial AR could modify PTEN deletion-induced uterine pathology. To test our hypothesis, we developed uterine glandular epithelium-specific PTEN and/or AR knockout mouse models comparing the uterine pathology among wild-type (WT), glandular epithelium-specific AR inactivation (ugeARKO), PTEN deletion (ugePTENKO), and the combined PTEN and AR knockout (ugePTENARKO) female mice. The double knockout restricted to glandular epithelium showed that AR inactivation enhanced PTEN deletion-induced uterine pathology with development of intraepithelial neoplasia by 20 weeks of age. In ugePTENARKO, 6/10 (60%) developed intraepithelial neoplasia, whereas 3/10 (30%) developed only glandular hyperplasia in ugePTENKO uterus. No uterine pathology was observed in WT (n=8) and ugeARKO (n=7) uteri. Uterine weight was significantly (P=0.002) increased in ugePTENARKO (374±97 mg (mean±s.e.)) compared with WT (97±6 mg), ugeARKO (94±12 mg), and ugePTENKO (205±33 mg). Estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) and P-AKT expression was modified by uterine pathology but did not differ between ugePTENKO and ugePTENARKO, suggesting that its expressions are not directly affected by androgens. However, progesterone receptor (PR) expression was reduced in ugePTENARKO compared to ugePTENKO uterus, suggesting that PR expression could be regulated by glandular epithelial AR inactivation. In conclusion, glandular epithelial AR inactivation (with persistent stromal AR action) enhanced PTEN deletion-induced uterine pathology possibly by downregulating PR expression in the uterus.

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Jenny Welander, Adam Andreasson, Michael Brauckhoff, Martin Bäckdahl, Catharina Larsson, Oliver Gimm, and Peter Söderkvist

Pheochromocytomas are neuroendocrine tumors arising from the adrenal medulla. While heritable mutations are frequently described, less is known about the genetics of sporadic pheochromocytoma. Mutations in genes involved in the cellular hypoxia response have been identified in tumors, and recently EPAS1, encoding HIF2α, has been revealed to be a new gene involved in the pathogenesis of pheochromocytoma and abdominal paraganglioma. The aim of this study was to further characterize EPAS1 alterations in non-familial pheochromocytomas. Tumor DNA from 42 adrenal pheochromocytoma cases with apparently sporadic presentation, without known hereditary mutations in predisposing genes, were analyzed for mutations in EPAS1 by sequencing of exons 9 and 12, which contain the two hydroxylation sites involved in HIF2α degradation, and also exon 2. In addition, the copy number at the EPAS1 locus as well as transcriptome-wide gene expression were studied by DNA and RNA microarray analyses, respectively. We identified six missense EPAS1 mutations, three in exon 9 and three in exon 12, in five of 42 pheochromocytomas (12%). The mutations were both somatic and constitutional, and had no overlap in 11 cases (26%) with somatic mutations in NF1 or RET. One sample had two different EPAS1 mutations, shown by cloning to occur in cis, possibly indicating a novel mechanism of HIF2α stabilization through inactivation of both hydroxylation sites. One of the tumors with an EPAS1 mutation also had a gain in DNA copy number at the EPAS1 locus. All EPAS1-mutated tumors displayed a pseudo-hypoxic gene expression pattern, indicating an oncogenic role of the identified mutations.

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P A Abrahamsson

The prognostic significance of neuroendocrine differentiation in prostatic malignancy is controversial, but the results of recent studies with markers such as chromogranin A and neurone-specific enolase suggest that neuroendocrine differentiation, as reflected by increased tissue expression or blood concentrations of these neuroendocrine secretory products, is associated with a poor prognosis, tumour progression, and androgen independence. As all malignant neuroendocrine cells are devoid of androgen receptors and the expression of neuroendocrine cells is not suppressed by androgen ablation, clonal propagation of androgen receptor-negative neuroendocrine cells may have an important role in the development of androgen-independent prostatic carcinoma. This has significant implications for the treatment of prostate cancer, because several of the hormones that are secreted by neuroendocrine differentiated, malignant prostatic cells are potential candidates for use in drug treatment. A limited number of hormones have been tested in this context, in particular somatostatin, bombesin, and serotonin. As there is currently no successful treatment for differentiated prostate cancer, new therapeutic procedures and trials need to be developed to test drugs based on neuroendocrine hormones or their antagonists.