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Tirtha K Das and Ross L Cagan

Twenty-five years ago, RET was identified as the primary driver of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2) syndrome. MEN2 is characterized by several transformation events including pheochromocytoma, parathyroid adenoma and, especially penetrant, medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC). Overall, MTC is a rare but aggressive type of thyroid cancer for which no effective treatment currently exists. Surgery, radiation, radioisotope treatment and chemotherapeutics have all shown limited success, and none of these approaches have proven durable in advanced disease. Non-mammalian models that incorporate the oncogenic RET isoforms associated with MEN2 and other RET-associated diseases have been useful in delineating mechanisms underlying disease progression. These models have also identified novel targeted therapies as single agents and as combinations. These studies highlight the importance of modeling disease in the context of the whole animal, accounting for the complex interplay between tumor and normal cells in controlling disease progression as well as response to therapy. With convenient access to whole genome sequencing data from expanded thyroid cancer patient cohorts, non-mammalian models will become more complex, sophisticated and continue to complement future mammalian studies. In this review, we explore the contributions of non-mammalian models to our understanding of thyroid cancer including MTC, with a focus on Danio rerio and Drosophila melanogaster (fish and fly) models.

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Samuel A Wells Jr

Medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC), a tumor derived from the neural crest, occurs either sporadically or as the dominant component of the type 2 multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) syndromes, MEN2A and MEN2B. The discovery that mutations in the RET protooncogene cause hereditary MTC was of great importance, since it led to the development of novel methods of diagnosis and treatment. For example, the detection of a mutated RET allele in family members at risk for inheriting MEN2A or MEN2B signaled that they would develop MTC, and possibly other components of the syndromes. Furthermore, the detection of a mutated allele created the opportunity, especially in young children, to remove the thyroid before MTC developed, or while it was confined to the gland. The discovery also led to the development of molecular targeted therapeutics (MTTs), mainly tyrosine kinase inhibitors, which were effective in the treatment of patients with locally advanced or metastatic MTC. While responses to MTTs are often dramatic, they are highly variable, and almost always transient, because the tumor cells become resistant to the drugs. Clinical investigators and the pharmaceutical industry are focusing on the development of the next generation of MTTs, which have minimal toxicity and greater specificity for mutated RET.

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M T Barakat, K Meeran, and S R Bloom

Neuroendocrine tumours are a heterogeneous group including, for example, carcinoid, gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours, pituitary tumours, medullary carcinoma of the thyroid and phaeochromocytomas. They have attracted much attention in recent years, both because they are relatively easy to palliate and because they have indicated the chronic effect of the particular hormone elevated. As neuroendocrine phenotypes became better understood, the definition of neuroendocrine cells changed and is now accepted as referring to cells with neurotransmitter, neuromodulator or neuropeptide hormone production, dense-core secretory granules, and the absence of axons and synapses. Neuroendocrine markers, particularly chromogranin A, are invaluable diagnostically. Study of several neuroendocrine tumours has revealed a genetic etiology, and techniques such as genetic screening have allowed risk stratification and prevention of morbidity in patients carrying the particular mutation. Pharmacological therapy for these often slow-growing tumours, e.g. with somatostatin analogues, has dramatically improved symptom control, and radiolabelled somatostatin analogues offer targeted therapy for metastatic or inoperable disease. In this review, the diagnosis and management of patients with carcinoid, gut neuroendocrine tumours, multiple endocrine neoplasia types 1 and 2, and isolated phaeochromocytoma are evaluated.

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Zoran Erlic, Ursula Ploeckinger, Alberto Cascon, Michael M Hoffmann, Laura von Duecker, Aurelia Winter, Gerit Kammel, Janina Bacher, Maren Sullivan, Berend Isermann, Lars Fischer, Andreas Raffel, Wolfram Trudo Knoefel, Matthias Schott, Tobias Baumann, Oliver Schaefer, Tobias Keck, Richard P Baum, Ioana Milos, Mihaela Muresan, Mariola Peczkowska, Andrzej Januszewicz, Kenko Cupisti, Anke Tönjes, Mathias Fasshauer, Jan Langrehr, Peter von Wussow, Abbas Agaimy, Günter Schlimok, Regina Lamberts, Thorsten Wiech, Kurt Werner Schmid, Alexander Weber, Mercedes Nunez, Mercedes Robledo, Charis Eng, Hartmut P H Neumann, and for the VHL-ICT Consortium and the German NET Registry

Pancreatic islet cell tumors (ICTs) occur as sporadic neoplasias or as a manifestation of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) and von Hippel–Lindau disease (VHL). Molecular classification of ICTs is mandatory for timely diagnosis and surveillance. Systematic comparison of VHL-ICTs and sporadic ICTs has been lacking. Our registry-based approaches used the German NET-Registry with 259 patients with neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), who were primarily diagnosed with NETs, and the German VHL-Registry with 485 molecular genetically confirmed patients who had undergone magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography of the abdomen. All patients provided blood DNA for testing of the MEN1 and VHL genes for intragenic mutations and large deletions. In the NET-Registry, 9/101 patients (8.9%) with ICTs had germline mutations, 8 in MEN1 and 1 in VHL. In the VHL-Registry, prevalence of NETs was 52/487 (10.6%), and all were ICTs. Interestingly, of those with VHL p.R167W, 47% developed ICTs, compared to 2% of those with p.Y98H. In total, there were 92 truly sporadic, i.e. mutation-negative ICT patients. Comparing these with the 53 VHL-ICT patients, the statistically significant differences were predominance of female gender (P=0.01), multifocal ICTs (P=0.0029), and lower malignancy rate (P<0.001) in VHL-ICTs compared to sporadic cases. VHL was prevalent in <0.5% of NETs, while NETs occur in ∼10% of VHL, virtually exclusively as ICTs, which are rarely the first presentation. Patients with NETs should not be subjected to genetic testing of the VHL gene, unless they have multifocal ICTs, other VHL-associated tumors, and/or a family history for VHL.

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M Cecília Martins-Costa, Lucas L Cunha, Susan C Lindsey, Cleber P Camacho, Renata P Dotto, Gilberto K Furuzawa, M Sharmila A Sousa, Teresa S Kasamatsu, Ilda S Kunii, Márcio M Martins, Alberto L Machado, João R M Martins, Magnus R Dias-da-Silva, and Rui M B Maciel

Germline mutations in codon 918 of exon 16 of the RET gene (M918T) are classically associated with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B (MEN 2B) with highly aggressive medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), pheochromocytoma and a unique phenotype. The objectives of this study are to describe the rare M918V RET mutation discovered in 8 MTC kindreds from Brazil lacking the MEN 2B phenotype classically observed in M918T patients and to investigate the presence of a founder effect for this germline mutation. Eight apparently sporadic MTC cases were diagnosed with the germline M918V RET mutation. Subsequently, their relatives underwent clinical and genetic assessment (n = 113), and M918V was found in 42 of them. Until today, 20/50 M918V carriers underwent thyroidectomy and all presented MTC/C-cell hyperplasia; the remainder carriers are on clinical follow-up. None of the M918V carriers presented clinical features of MEN 2B. Their clinical presentation was heterogeneous, and the age at tumor diagnosis ranged from 24 to 59 years. Lymph node metastases were present in 12/20 patients, and presumable distant metastases in 2/20; in contrast, we observed a carrier of up to 87 years of age without evidence of MTC. Ethnographic fieldwork and haplotype analyses suggested that the founder mutation first settled in that area fifteen generations ago and originated from Portugal. Our study is the first to demonstrate the RET M918V mutation co-segregating in 8 familial MTC kindreds with validated evidence of a founder effect. We suggest that M918V MTC should be clinically considered an American Thyroid Association (ATA) moderate-risk category.

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Nele Garbrecht, Martin Anlauf, Anja Schmitt, Tobias Henopp, Bence Sipos, Andreas Raffel, Claus F Eisenberger, Wolfram T Knoefel, Marianne Pavel, Christian Fottner, Thomas J Musholt, Anja Rinke, Rudolf Arnold, Uta Berndt, Ursula Plöckinger, Bertram Wiedenmann, Holger Moch, Philipp U Heitz, Paul Komminoth, Aurel Perren, and Günter Klöppel

Somatostatin-producing neuroendocrine tumors (SOM-NETs) of the duodenum and pancreas appear to be heterogeneous. To determine their clinicopathological profiles, respective data were analyzed on a series of 82 duodenal and 541 pancreatic NETs. In addition, the clinical records of 821 patients with duodenal or pancreatic NETs were reviewed for evidence of a somatostatinoma syndrome. Predominant or exclusive expression of somatostatin was found in 21 (26%) duodenal and 21 (4%) pancreatic NETs. They were classified as sporadic (n=31) or neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)-associated duodenal NETs (n=3), gangliocytic paragangliomas (GCPGs; n=6), or poorly differentiated neuroendocrine carcinomas (pdNECs; n=2). In addition, five duodenal and four pancreatic SOM-NETs were found in five patients with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1). Metastases occurred in 13 (43%) patients with sporadic or NF1-associated SOM-NETs, but in none of the duodenal or pancreatic MEN1-associated SOM-NETs or GCPGs. Sporadic advanced (stage IV) SOM-NETs were more commonly detected in the pancreas than in the duodenum. None of the patients (including the 821 patients for whom only the clinical records were reviewed) fulfilled the criteria of a somatostatinoma syndrome. Our data show that somatostatin expression is not only seen in sporadic NETs but may also occur in GCPGs, pdNECs, and hereditary NETs. Surgical treatment is effective in most duodenal and many pancreatic SOM-NETs. MEN1-associated SOM-NETs and GCPGs follow a benign course, while somatostatin-producing pdNECs are aggressive neoplasms. The occurrence of the so-called somatostatinoma syndrome appears to be extremely uncommon.

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Simona Grozinsky-Glasberg, Kate E Lines, Shani Avniel-Polak, Chas Bountra, and Rajesh V Thakker

Neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) occur usually as sporadic tumours; however, rarely, they may arise in the context of a hereditary syndrome, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1), an autosomal dominant disorder characterised by the combined development of pancreatic NENs (pNENs) together with parathyroid and anterior pituitary tumours. The therapeutic decision for sporadic pNENs patients is multi-disciplinary and complex: based on the grade and stage of the tumor, various options (and their combinations) are considered, such as surgical excision (either curative or for debulking aims), biological drugs (somatostatin analogues), targeted therapies (mTOR inhibitors or tyrosine kinases (TK)/receptors inhibitors), peptide receptor radioligand therapy (PRRT), chemotherapy, and liver-directed therapies. However, treatment of MEN1-related NENs’ patients is even more challenging, as these tumours are usually multifocal with co-existing foci of heterogeneous biology and malignant potential, rendering them more resistant to the conventional therapies used in their sporadic counterparts, and therefore associated with a poorer prognosis. Moreover, clinical data using standard therapeutic options in MEN1-related NENs are scarce. Recent preclinical studies have identified potentially new targeted therapeutic options for treating MEN1-associated NENs, such as epigenetic modulators, Wnt pathway-targeting β-catenin antagonists, Ras signalling modulators, Akt/mTOR signalling modulators, novel somatostatin receptors analogues, anti-angiogenic drugs, as well as MEN1 gene replacement therapy. The present review aims to summarize these novel therapeutic opportunities for NENs developing in the context of MEN1 syndrome, with an emphasis on pancreatic NENs, as they are the most frequent ones studied in MEN1-NENs models to date; moreover, due to the recent shifting nomenclature of ‘pituitary adenomas’ to ‘pituitary neuroendocrine neoplasms’, relevant data on MEN1-pituitary tumours, when appropriate, are briefly described.

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Francesca Marini, Francesca Giusti, Francesco Tonelli, and Maria Luisa Brandi

Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) is an autosomal dominant endocrine tumor syndrome, caused by inactivating mutations of the MEN1 tumor suppressor gene at 11q13 locus, which predisposes to develop tumors in target neuroendocrine tissues. As the positional cloning and identification of the causative gene in 1997, genetic diagnosis, by the sequencing-based research of gene mutations, has become an important tool in the early and differential diagnosis of the disease. Application of the genetic test, in MEN1 index cases and in first-degree relatives of mutated patients, has been constantly increasing during the last two decades, also thanks to the establishment of multidisciplinary referral centers and specific genetic counseling, and thanks to the wide availability of high throughput instruments for gene sequencing and gene mutation identification. The MEN1 genetic test helps the specific diagnosis of probands, and allows the early identification of asymptomatic carriers, strongly contributing, together with progressions in tumor diagnostic techniques and in pharmacological and surgical therapeutic approaches, to the reduction of morbidity and mortality associated with the syndrome. International clinical guidelines for MEN1 have been drafted by panels of specialists in the field, with the main goal to improve the management of the disease and grant patients a better quality of life. Here, we review main recommendations and suggestions derived by the last published general guidelines in 2012, and by most recent published studies about MEN1 syndrome diagnosis, clinical management, therapeutic approaches and patients’ quality of life.

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Jenny Welander, Peter Söderkvist, and Oliver Gimm

Pheochromocytomas (PCCs) and paragangliomas (PGLs) are rare neuroendocrine tumors of the adrenal glands and the sympathetic and parasympathetic paraganglia. They can occur sporadically or as a part of different hereditary tumor syndromes. About 30% of PCCs and PGLs are currently believed to be caused by germline mutations and several novel susceptibility genes have recently been discovered. The clinical presentation, including localization, malignant potential, and age of onset, varies depending on the genetic background of the tumors. By reviewing more than 1700 reported cases of hereditary PCC and PGL, a thorough summary of the genetics and clinical features of these tumors is given, both as part of the classical syndromes such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2), von Hippel–Lindau disease, neurofibromatosis type 1, and succinate dehydrogenase-related PCC–PGL and within syndromes associated with a smaller fraction of PCCs/PGLs, such as Carney triad, Carney–Stratakis syndrome, and MEN1. The review also covers the most recently discovered susceptibility genes including KIF1B β , EGLN1/PHD2, SDHAF2, TMEM127, SDHA, and MAX, as well as a comparison with the sporadic form. Further, the latest advances in elucidating the cellular pathways involved in PCC and PGL development are discussed in detail. Finally, an algorithm for genetic testing in patients with PCC and PGL is proposed.

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Lois M Mulligan

The focus of precision cancer medicine is the use of patient genetic signatures to predict disease occurrence and course and tailor approaches to individualized treatment to improve patient outcomes. The rearranged during transfection (RET) receptor tyrosine kinase represents a paradigm for the power of personalized cancer management to change cancer impact and improve quality of life. Oncogenic activation of RET occurs through several mechanisms including activating mutations and increased or aberrant expression. Activating RET mutations found in the inherited cancer syndrome multiple endocrine neoplasia 2 permit early diagnosis, predict disease course and guide disease management to optimize patient survival. Rearrangements of RET found in thyroid and lung tumors provide insights on potential disease aggressiveness and offer opportunities for RET-targeted therapy. Aberrant RET expression in a subset of cases is associated with tumor dissemination, resistance to therapies and/or poorer prognosis in multiple cancers. The potential of RET targeting through repurposing of small-molecule multikinase inhibitors, selective RET inhibitors or other novel approaches provides exciting opportunities to individualize therapies across multiple pathologies where RET oncogenicity contributes to cancer outcomes.