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S Pelengaris and M Khan

Pancreatic islet neoplasms are rare endocrine tumours. The most common type is of beta-cell origin and is known as insulinoma, which can be either benign or malignant. The majority of insulinomas arise sporadically, but a small proportion develop as part of the hereditary multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) syndrome. As for many human tumours, the genetic events that occur during the initiation and progression of insulinoma are poorly known. The men1 gene product, menin, is deficient in most hereditary cases, but is not obviously affected in the majority of sporadic tumours. Activation of the proto-oncogenes c-myc and ras has been observed during malignant progression, but their role in tumour initiation remains unproven. To address these questions, transgenic mouse models have been increasingly used to explore molecular and genetic events that might also precipitate human neoplasia. Transgenic mice expressing SV40 large T-antigen (Tag) oncogene in beta-cells develop tumours in a multi-stage progression from hyperplasia, angiogenesis, to solid encapsulated tumours. However, Tag, which inactivates the key tumour suppressors p53 and Rb, is not known to be involved in the pathogenesis of human insulinoma. The proto-oncogene, c-myc is implicated in beta-cell growth in both diabetes and tumorigenesis. Activation of Myc appears to be an early event in progression of human insulinoma. The effect of deregulated Myc expression on adult beta-cells in vivo has recently been investigated by developing transgenic mouse models in which the activity of Myc can be regulated ectopically. Although Myc activation initially promotes both proliferation and apoptosis in pancreatic beta-cells, apoptosis is the predominant outcome, giving rise to islet involution and diabetes. Importantly, inhibiting Myc-induced apoptosis (by co-expression of Bcl-x(L)) leads to significantly enlarged islets, many becoming highly vascularized, hyperplastic and invasive. These results suggest that, in the pancreatic beta-cells, early suppression of apoptosis is essential for the survival of Myc-activated beta-cells and islet neoplasia.

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Ramona Dadu, Rozita Bagheri-Yarmand, Matthew D Ringel, Elizabeth G Grubbs, Mark Zafereo, Gilbert Cote, Robert F Gagel, Bruce G Robinson, Kenna R Shaw, and Mimi I Hu

The 16th International Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Workshop (MEN2019) held in Houston, TX, USA, focused on emerging topics in the pathogenesis and therapy of malignant endocrine tumors associated with MEN syndromes. With MEN-2 syndromes, the most common malignancy is medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC). In the spirit of the original MEN meeting workshop model, the conference included didactic lectures and interactive working groups of clinicians and researchers focused on the state of science in MTC and ongoing challenges or unmet needs in the understanding of MTC and to develop strategies to address these issues.

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A Raitila, M Georgitsi, A Karhu, K Tuppurainen, M J Mäkinen, K Birkenkamp-Demtröder, K Salmenkivi, T F Ørntoft, J Arola, V Launonen, P Vahteristo, and L A Aaltonen

Germline mutations in the aryl hydrocarbon receptor interacting protein (AIP) gene were recently observed in patients with pituitary adenoma predisposition (PAP). Though AIP mutation-positive individuals with prolactin-, mixed growth hormone/prolactin-, and ACTH-producing pituitary adenomas as well as non-secreting pituitary adenomas have been reported, most mutation-positive patients have had growth hormone-producing adenomas diagnosed at relatively young age. Pituitary adenomas are also component tumors of some familial endocrine neoplasia syndromes such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) and Carney complex (CNC). Genes underlying MEN1 and CNC are rarely mutated in sporadic pituitary adenomas, but more often in other lesions contributing to these two syndromes. Thus far, the occurrence of somatic AIP mutations has not been studied in endocrine tumors other than pituitary adenomas. Here, we have analyzed 32 pituitary adenomas and 79 other tumors of the endocrine system for somatic AIP mutations by direct sequencing. No somatic mutations were identified. However, two out of nine patients with prolactin-producing adenoma were shown to harbor a Finnish founder mutation (Q14X) with a complete loss of the wild-type allele in the tumors. These results are in agreement with previous studies in that prolactin-producing adenomas are component tumors in PAP. The data also support the previous finding that somatic AIP mutations are not common in pituitary adenomas and suggest that such mutations are rare in other endocrine tumors as well.

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N Angelopoulos, V Barbounis, S Livadas, D Kaltsas, and G Tolis

Breast cancer is one of the main life-threatening diseases that a woman may have to face during her lifetime. The increasing incidence of breast neoplasia reported over the last few decades has led to widespread screening of women resulting in early diagnosis. One common but challenging question for most doctors, after the surgical excision of the lesion, is determination of the ideal adjuvant therapy for their patients for the achievement of maximum life expectancy with the best quality of life.

Since the beginning of the last century, the knowledge that breast cancer arises from hormone-responsive tissues has long made use of hormone-blocking agents in the beneficial treatment of breast neoplasia. The discovery of new molecules with endocrine actions has rendered the use of adjuvant therapy in a tailor-made pattern too complicated, as these agents have a different mode of action, different adverse effects and probably different indications.

The aim of the present review is to clarify these issues, analyzing the mechanism of action of available drugs and their actions on specific areas of uncertainty: cognitive function, cardiovascular system, urogenital tract, bone metabolism, weight gain, hot flushes and premature menopause. Regarding the efficacy of adjuvant therapy, there has been particular focus on the multiple hormonal-induced consequences of each regimen in order to provide the clinician with the available data for choosing the ideal therapy for the patient.

Free access

Benjamin Easton White, Maralyn R Druce, Simona Grozinsky-Glasberg, Rajaventhan Srirajaskanthan, Eva Maria Gamper, Debra Gray, Ruben Mujica-Mota, and John K Ramage

Incidence of neuroendocrine neoplasia (NEN) is increasing, as is use of health-related quality of life (HRQoL) measurement in clinical trials. Following development of validated questionnaires, HRQoL is widely used to assess outcomes. This review is intended for healthcare professionals and is based on a selection of data published in the last decade. HRQoL is on par with other clinical endpoints such as performance status. Assessments in clinical trials have been particularly useful for monitoring the symptom burden of NEN, for the effects of treatments on patients’ lives, and have provided new data allied to the usual clinical endpoints. QoL expressed as quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) have become the most important primary outcome to establish cost-effectiveness in health economic evaluation. From looking at clinical trials over the last 10 years, we see that the quality of HRQoL evidence reported in published studies has improved and, in general, recent studies are likely to be more methodologically robust. Assessment of HRQoL in clinical trials is likely to become a standard part of clinical practice in NEN, as in other cancers. However, clear methods for calculating the clinical meaningfulness of changes in scores are needed. Other limitations of HRQoL measurement include lack of specificity to certain symptom sets and ease of completion and administration. An international group taking a lead on developing HRQoL research specifically in NEN patients is needed to address limitations of the evidence base. In order for greater weight to be placed on HRQoL data, agreement on optimal, validated scoring systems is needed.

Free access

Andreas Machens, Steffen Hauptmann, and Henning Dralle

Rearranged during transfection (RET) germ-line mutations in exon 10 are peculiar because they produce both gain-of-function multiple endocrine neoplasia 2A and loss-of-function Hirschsprung's disease phenotypes. Drawing on 38 medullary thyroid cancer patients harboring germ-line mutations in codon 620 (n=8), 618 (n=19), 611 (n=10), and 609 (n=1), this study aimed to test the hypothesis that closer proximity of RET germ-line mutations in exon 10 to the cell membrane may translate into earlier or more advanced disease. The closer mutations in codon 620, 618, and 611 were located to the transmembrane domain (codons 657–636) of the RET receptor, the greater were mean primary tumor diameters (23.5, 18.7, and 7.5 mm, P=0.020), the frequency of lymph node metastasis (75, 68, and 30%, P=0.11) and pheochromocytoma (38, 16, and 0%, P=0.11). Periods of observation were broadly comparable for these groups (mean age 33.4–39.3 years; P=0.71). When mutations in adjoining codons were collapsed (codons 620/618 vs 611/609), the differences in mean primary tumor diameter (20.1 vs 7.4 mm, P=0.005) and lymph node metastasis (70 vs 36%; P=0.07) were accentuated. Compared with 80 carriers of exon 11 mutations (codon 634, n=78; codon 630, n=2), the 38 carriers of exon 10 mutations, which are rarer and confer a weaker transforming activity in vitro than exon 11 mutations, required significantly more time to develop fewer tumors. Although limited in numbers, these data suggested that membrane proximity is an important determinant of tumor development in carriers of RET mutations in exon 10.

Free access

Ioana N Milos, Karin Frank-Raue, Nelson Wohllk, Ana Luiza Maia, Eduardo Pusiol, Attila Patocs, Mercedes Robledo, Josefina Biarnes, Marta Barontini, Thera P Links, Jan Willem de Groot, Sarka Dvorakova, Mariola Peczkowska, Lisa A Rybicki, Maren Sullivan, Friedhelm Raue, Ioana Zosin, Charis Eng, and Hartmut P H Neumann

RET testing in multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 for molecular diagnosis is the paradigm for the practice of clinical cancer genetics. However, precise data for distinct mutation-based risk profiles are not available. Here, we survey the clinical profile for one specific genotype as a model, TGC to TGG in codon 634 (C634W). By international efforts, we ascertained all available carriers of the RET C634W mutation. Age at diagnosis, penetrance, and clinical complications were analyzed for medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC), pheochromocytoma, and hyperparathyroidism (HPT), as well as overall survival. Our series comprises 92 carriers from 20 unrelated families worldwide. Sixty-eight subjects had MTC diagnosed at age 3–72 years (mean 29). Lymph node metastases were observed in 16 subjects aged 20–72 and distant metastases in 4 subjects aged 28–69. Forty-one subjects had pheochromocytoma detected at age 18–67 (mean 36). Amongst the 28 subjects with MTC and pheochromocytoma, six developed pheochromocytoma before MTC. Six subjects had HPT diagnosed at age 26–52 (mean 39). Eighteen subjects died; of the 16 with known causes of death, 8 died of pheochromocytoma and 4 of MTC. Penetrance for MTC is 52% by age 30 and 83% by age 50, for pheochromocytoma penetrance is 20% by age 30 and 67% by age 50, and for HPT penetrance is 3% by age 30 and 21% by age 50. These data provide, for the first time, RET C634W-specific neoplastic risk and age-related penetrance profiles. The data may facilitate risk assessment and genetic counseling.

Free access

A A Pannett and R V Thakker

Combined clinical and laboratory investigations of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) have resulted in an increased understanding of this disorder which may be inherited as an autosomal dominant condition. Defining the features of each disease manifestation in MEN1 has improved patient management and treatment, and has also facilitated a screening protocol to be instituted. The application of the techniques of molecular biology has enabled the identification of the gene causing MEN1 and the detection of mutations in patients. The function of the protein encoded by the MEN1 gene has been shown to be in the regulation of JunD-mediated transcription but much still remains to be elucidated. However, these recent advances provide for the identification of mutant MEN1 gene carriers who are at a high risk of developing this disorder and thus require regular and biochemical screening to detect the development of endocrine tumours.

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George H Sakorafas, Helmut Friess, and George Peros

Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) may occur either sporadically or on a hereditary basis. Hereditary MTC may be observed with either multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes (MEN 2A and MEN 2B) or as familial MTC (FMTC). Despite the rarity of these syndromes, early diagnosis is especially important, since MTC is a lethal disease if not promptly and appropriately treated. Recently, the development of genetic testing and direct DNA analysis allows the identification of asymptomatic patients. Surgical prophylaxis should be considered in these cases, ideally to prevent the development of MTC. During the recent decade, the concept of ‘codon-directed’ timing of prophylactic surgery emerged as a reasonable strategy in the management of these patients. Currently, genetic analysis offers the possibility to define genotype–phenotype correlations and to adjust the time of prophylactic surgery. Hereditary MTC is a model of genetically determined cancer in which both diagnostic and therapeutic strategies rely on the identification of specific mutations.

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Annamaria Biroccio and Carlo Leonetti

Prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men. Androgen ablation is the mainstay of treatment for advanced prostate cancer. This therapy is very effective in androgen-dependent cancer; however, these cancers eventually become androgen independent, rendering anti-androgen therapy ineffective. The exploration of novel modalities of treatment is therefore essential to improve the prognosis of this neoplasia.

Telomeres are specialized heterochromatin structures that act as protective caps at the ends of chromosomes. Telomere maintenance in the majority of tumor cells is achieved by telomerase, a reverse transcriptase enzyme that catalyzes the synthesis of further telomeric DNA. Telomerase is detected in the majority of prostate cancers, but not in normal or benign prostatic hyperplasia tissue. Moreover, the human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) gene, the catalytic subunit of telomerase, is regulated by androgens as well as by different oncogenes including Her-2, Ras, c-Myc and Bcl-2, which seem to play an important role in prostate cancer progression. Thus, telomerase may represent a very good candidate for targeted therapy in prostate tumors. To inhibit telomere maintenance by telomerase, approaches that directly target either telomerase and telomeres or the telomerase regulatory mechanisms have been used. Moreover, strategies targeting telomerase-positive cells as a means to directly kill the tumor cells have been tested. This review summarizes the most promising results achieved by anti-telomerase strategy in different solid tumors. Most of the telomeraseassociated therapies described here have proved very promising for the treatment of prostate cancer. On the basis of the good results obtained and considering the multigenic defects of human tumors, including prostate cancer, the combination of anti-telomerase strategies with conventional drugs and/or molecules capable of interfering with oncogenic pathways could efficiently improve the response of this neoplasia.