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A Perren, S Schmid, T Locher, P Saremaslani, C Bonvin, P U Heitz, and P Komminoth

The tumorigenesis of sporadic endocrine tumors is still not fully understood. Activating point mutations of the serine/threonine kinase gene BRAF located on 7q34 are found in a wide range of malignancies, with the highest frequency (66%) occurring in malignant melanomas. Melanomas are tumors of neural-crest-derived cells as are medullary thyroid carcinomas, pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas. BRAF has not been examined in endocrine tumors of the diffuse neuroendocrine system or of neural-crest-derived cells.

We examined 130 endocrine tumors of the pancreas, parathyroid gland, adrenal medulla, paraganglia, lung and gastrointestinal tract as well as follicular and c-cell-derived thyroid tumors. We found a high rate of V559E mutations in papillary thyroid carcinomas (47%), one V599E mutation in a well-differentiated gastric endocrine carcinoma (malignant carcinoid), but no activating BRAF mutations in all other endocrine tumors examined. These results point towards different pathways in tumorigenesis of endocrine tumors of various localizations and only rare involvement of the MAP kinase (MAPK) pathway in a subset of malignant neuroendocrine tumors.

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Vincenzo Marotta, Maria Chiara Zatelli, Concetta Sciammarella, Maria Rosaria Ambrosio, Marta Bondanelli, Annamaria Colao, and Antongiulio Faggiano

Owing to the heterogeneity of neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs), the availability of reliable circulating markers is critical for improving diagnostics, prognostic stratification, follow-up and definition of treatment strategy. This review is focused on chromogranin A (CgA), a hydrophilic glycoprotein present in large dense core vesicles of neuroendocrine cells. Despite being long identified as the most useful NEN-related circulating marker, clinical application of CgA is controversial. CgA assays still lack standardization, thus hampering not only clinical management but also the comparison between different analyses. In the diagnostic setting, clinical utility of CgA is limited as hampered by (a) the variety of oncological and non-oncological conditions affecting marker levels, which impairs specificity; (b) the fact that 30–50% of NENs show normal CgA, which impairs sensitivity. Regarding the prognostic phase, there is prospective evidence which demonstrates that advanced NENs secreting CgA have poorer outcome, as compared with those showing non-elevated marker levels. Although the identification of cut-offs allowing a proper risk stratification of CgA-secreting patients has not been performed, this represents the most important clinical application of the marker. By contrast, based on prospective studies, the trend of elevated circulating CgA does not represent a valid indicator of morphological evolution and has therefore no utility for the follow-up phase. Ultimately, current knowledge about the role of the marker for the definition of treatment strategy is poor and is limited by the small number of available studies, their prevalent retrospective nature and the absence of control groups of untreated subjects.

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Amy Moreno, Argun Akcakanat, Mark F Munsell, Alpana Soni, James C Yao, and Funda Meric-Bernstam

The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway has emerged as a promising target for cancer therapy. Rapamycin inhibits mTOR activity but induces upstream signaling, leading to Akt activation, potentially limiting antitumor activity. Octreotide, a somatostatin analog, decreases phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase/Akt signaling in some models, and thus theoretically may enhance rapamycin's antitumor activity. The aim of this study was to determine the antitumor activity of rapamycin and octreotide as single agents and in combination in neuroendocrine tumors. In carcinoid cell lines BON-1 and NCI-H727, cell proliferation was significantly inhibited by rapamycin in vitro, although rapamycin treatment did lead to Akt phosphorylation. Octreotide had limited antiproliferative effects alone, and did not demonstrate synergistic or additive interactions with rapamycin. Furthermore, octreotide did not overcome rapamycin-induced Akt phosphorylation. In vivo, rapamycin alone caused significant tumor suppression. Octreotide alone did not inhibit in vivo tumor growth and did not enhance rapamycin-mediated growth inhibition. In conclusion, rapamycin causes significant growth inhibition in carcinoid tumor cell lines in vitro and in vivo, thus mTOR is a promising therapeutic target for neuroendocrine tumors. Octreotide does not enhance the efficacy of rapamycin's antiproliferative effects in the models tested, and does not inhibit rapamycin-mediated feedback activation of Akt. Further study is needed in order to determine whether octreotide or other somatostatin analogs enhance the efficacy of mTOR inhibitors in other models.

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Andrea Frilling, Goran Åkerström, Massimo Falconi, Marianne Pavel, Jose Ramos, Mark Kidd, and Irvin Mark Modlin

Gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms (GEP-NENs) represent a heterogenous group of tumors arising from a variety of neuroendocrine cell types. The incidence and prevalence of GEP-NENs have markedly increased over the last three decades. Symptoms are often absent in early disease, or vague and nonspecific even in advanced disease. Delayed diagnosis is thus common. Chromogranin A is the most commonly used biomarker but has limitations as does the proliferative marker Ki-67%, which is often used for tumor grading and determination of therapy. The development of a multidimensional prognostic nomogram may be valuable in predicting tumor behavior and guiding therapy but requires validation. Identification of NENs that express somatostatin receptors (SSTR) allows for SSTR scintigraphy and positron emission tomography imaging using novel radiolabeled compounds. Complete surgical resection of limited disease or endoscopic ablation of small lesions localized in stomach or rectum can provide cure; however, the majority of GEP-NENs are metastatic (most frequently the liver and/or mesenteric lymph nodes) at diagnosis. Selected patients with metastatic disease may benefit from advanced surgical techniques including hepatic resection or liver transplantation. Somatostatin analogs are effective for symptomatic treatment and exhibit some degree of antiproliferative activity in small intestinal NENs. There is a place for streptozotocin, temozolomide, and capecitabine in the management of pancreatic NENs, while new agents targeting either mTOR (everolimus) or angiogenic (sunitinib) pathways have shown efficacy in these lesions.

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Graeme Eisenhofer, Stefan R Bornstein, Frederieke M Brouwers, Nai-Kong V Cheung, Patricia L Dahia, Ronald R de Krijger, Thomas J Giordano, Lloyd A Greene, David S Goldstein, Hendrik Lehnert, William M Manger, John M Maris, Hartmut P H Neumann, Karel Pacak, Barry L Shulkin, David I Smith, Arthur S Tischler, and William F Young Jr

Pheochromocytomas are rare catecholamine-producing neuroendocrine tumors that are usually benign, but which may also present as or develop into a malignancy. Predicting such behavior is notoriously difficult and there are currently no curative treatments for malignant tumors. This report follows from a workshop at the Banbury Conference Center, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, on the 16th–18th November 2003, held to review the state of science and to facilitate future progress in the diagnosis and treatment of malignant pheochromocytoma. The rarity of the tumor and the resulting fragmented nature of studies, typically involving small numbers of patients, represent limiting factors to the development of effective treatments and diagnostic or prognostic markers for malignant disease. Such development is being facilitated by the availability of new genomics-based tools, but for such approaches to succeed ultimately requires comprehensive clinical studies involving large numbers of patients, stringently collected clinical data and tumor samples, and interdisciplinary collaborations among multiple specialist centers. Nevertheless, the well-characterized hereditary basis and the unique functional nature of these neuroendocrine tumors provide a useful framework that offers advantages for establishing the pathways of tumorigenesis and malignancy. Such findings may have relevance for understanding the basis of other more common malignancies where similar frameworks are not available. As the relevant pathways leading to pheochromocytoma are established it should be possible to take advantage of the new generation of drugs being developed to target specific pathways in other malignancies. Again the success of this will require well-designed and coordinated multicenter studies.

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Matthias Beyens, Timon Vandamme, Marc Peeters, Guy Van Camp, and Ken Op de Beeck

The mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) is part of the phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K)/protein kinase B (Akt)/mTOR signaling. The PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway has a pivotal role in the oncogenesis of neuroendocrine tumors (NETs). In addition, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) drive angiogenesis in NETs and therefore contributes to neuroendocrine tumor development. Hence, mTOR and angiogenesis inhibitors have been developed. Everolimus, a first-generation mTOR inhibitor, has shown significant survival benefit in advanced gastroenteropancreatic NETs. Sunitinib, a pan-tyrosine kinase inhibitor that targets the VEGF receptor, has proven to increase progression-free survival in advanced pancreatic NETs. Nevertheless, primary and acquired resistance to rapalogs and sunitinib has limited the clinical benefit for NET patients. Despite the identification of multiple molecular mechanisms of resistance, no predictive biomarker has made it to the clinic. This review is focused on the mTOR signaling and angiogenesis in NET, the molecular mechanisms of primary and acquired resistance to everolimus and sunitinib and how to overcome this resistance by alternative drug compounds.

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Per Bümming, Ola Nilsson, Håkan Ahlman, Anna Welbencer, Mattias K Andersson, Katarina Sjölund, and Bengt Nilsson

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) are thought to originate from the interstitial cells of Cajal, which share many properties with neurons of the gastrointestinal tract. Recently, we demonstrated expression of the hormone ghrelin in GIST. The aim of the present study was therefore to evaluate a possible neuroendocrine phenotype of GIST. Specimens from 41 GISTs were examined for the expression of 12 different synaptic vesicle proteins. Expression of synaptic-like microvesicle proteins, e.g., Synaptic vesicle protein 2 (SV2), synaptobrevin, synapsin 1, and amphiphysin was demonstrated in a majority of GISTs by immunohistochemistry, western blotting, and quantitative reversetranscriptase PCR. One-third of the tumors also expressed the large dense core vesicle protein vesicular monoamine transporter 1. Presence of microvesicles and dense core vesicles in GIST was confirmed by electron microscopy. The expression of synaptic-like microvesicle proteins in GIST was not related to risk profile or to KIT/platelet derived growth factor alpha (PDGFRA) mutational status. Thus, GISTs regularly express a subset of synaptic-like microvesicle proteins necessary for the regulated secretion of neurotransmitters and hormones. Expression of synaptic-like micro-vesicle proteins, ghrelin and peptide hormone receptors in GIST indicate a neuroendocrine phenotype and suggest novel possibilities to treat therapy-resistant GIST.

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Cristina Rodríguez-Antona, Iván Muñoz-Repeto, Lucia Inglada-Pérez, Aguirre A de Cubas, Veronika Mancikova, Marta Cañamero, Agnieszka Maliszewska, Álvaro Gómez, Rocío Letón, Luis J Leandro-García, Iñaki Comino-Méndez, Lara Sanchez, Cristina Álvarez-Escolá, Javier Aller, Alberto Cascón, and Mercedes Robledo

The therapeutic options for patients with metastatic medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) have recently increased due to the development of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), some of which have achieved remarkable clinical responses in MTC patients. However, the molecular basis for the large variability in TKI responses is unknown. In this exploratory study, we investigated the expression of eight key TKI target proteins (EGFR, KIT, MET, PDGFRB, VEGF (VEGFA), VEGFR1 (FLT1), VEGFR2 (KDR), and VEGFR3 (FLT4)) by immunohistochemistry in 103 molecularly characterized MTC samples and identified the associated clinical and molecular features. A number of MTC samples exhibited a high expression of VEGFR2 and VEGFR3, which were overexpressed in 57 and 43% of the MTC samples respectively. VEGFR1, PDGFRB, VEGF, KIT, and MET were present in 34–20% of the cases, while EGFR was highly expressed in only 10% of the MTC samples. Some proteins exhibited large differences in expression between sporadic and familial cases, suggesting that different RET mutations may be associated with the immunohistochemical profiles. MTC samples with the C634 RET mutation exhibited a higher expression of VEGFR3 and KIT than the M918T RET-mutated and non-mutated RET tumor samples (P=0.005 and P=0.007 respectively) and a lower expression of VEGFR1 (P=0.04). Non-mutated RET MTC cases exhibited a lower expression of PDGFRB (P=0.04). Overall, this is the first study, to our knowledge, to show that multiple TKI targets are highly expressed in a subset of MTCs, suggesting that molecular stratification of patients may have the potential to improve TKI therapies for MTC.

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Cristina Romei, Raffaele Ciampi, Pinuccia Faviana, Laura Agate, Eleonora Molinaro, Valeria Bottici, Fulvio Basolo, Paolo Miccoli, Furio Pacini, Aldo Pinchera, and Rossella Elisei

A low sodium iodide symporter (NIS) expression has been shown in papillary thyroid carcinomas (PTCs) harboring the BRAFV600E mutation. In the present study, we analyzed the mRNA expression of thyroid differentiation genes, glucose transporter (GLUT)-1 and GLUT-3, in 78 PTCs according to the presence of BRAFV600E or RET/PTC rearrangements. We found BRAFV600E and RET/PTC rearrangements in 35.8 and 19.4% of PTCs respectively. The mRNA expression of NIS and thyroperoxidase (TPO) genes were significantly lower (P<0.0001 and P=0.004 respectively) in BRAFV600E-positive PTC with respect to non-mutated samples. In support of this result, immunohistochemistry showed that the percentage of NIS-positive cells was significantly lower (P=0.005) in BRAFV600E-mutated PTC (mean 53.5%) than in negative cases (mean 72.6%). In contrast, no difference either in NIS or in any other thyroid differentiation genes' mRNA expression was found in PTC with or without RET/PTC rearrangements. When GLUT-1 and GLUT-3 mRNA expression was considered, no correlation was found either in BRAFV600E- nor in RET/PTC-mutated cases. In conclusion, this study confirmed the presence of a genetic alteration of BRAF and/or RET oncogenes in 64% of PTC cases and revealed a significant correlation of BRAFV600E mutation with a lower expression of both NIS and TPO. This latter finding could indicate that an early dedifferentiation process is present at the molecular level in BRAFV600E-mutated PTC, thus suggesting that the previously demonstrated poor prognostic significance of BRAFV600E mutation could be related to the dedifferentiation process more than to a more advanced stage at diagnosis.

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Esther Korpershoek, Bart-Jeroen Petri, Francien H van Nederveen, Winand N M Dinjens, Albert A Verhofstad, Wouter W de Herder, Sonja Schmid, Aurel Perren, Paul Komminoth, and Ronald R de Krijger

Pheochromocytomas (PCCs) are rare tumors that arise from chromaffin tissue in the adrenal medulla, but can also occur in the abdomen outside the adrenals and are then called sympathetic paragangliomas (sPGLs). According to the literature, between 15 and 25% of apparently sporadic adrenal PCC and sPGL are caused by germline mutations in RET, von Hippel–Lindau disease (VHL), succinate dehydrogenase subunit B (SDHB), or subunit D SDHD. However, few studies have addressed the mutationfrequency of these candidate genes in selected subgroups of PCC andsPGL, such as bilateral adrenal PCC or extra-adrenal sPGL, and none have looked at somatic mutations by analyzing tumor tissue. Therefore, we have investigated the occurrence of germline and somatic mutations in RET, VHL, SDHB, and SDHD in comparatively large series of bilateral adrenal PCC (n = 33 patients) and sPGL (n = 26 patients), with the aim of determining the mutation frequency of each of these genes and to establish a genetic testing algorithm. Twenty-one RET, two VHL germline, and one SDHD mutations were found in the patients with bilateral adrenal PCC. In sPGL, one novel SDHB germline and one novel SDHB somatic mutation were observed. In addition, two SDHD germline mutations were found. We conclude that germline RET mutations are predominantly found in bilateral PCC, and that somatic and germline SDHB and SDHD mutations usually occur in sPGL, which has practical consequences for genetic testing algorithms. We suggest that sequential mutation analysis should be directed first at RET, followed by VHL and SDHD for patients with bilateral adrenal PCC at diagnosis, and at SDHB and SDHD for patients with sPGL.