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Andrea Gutierrez Maria, Christina Tatsi, Annabel Berthon, Ludivine Drougat, Nikolaos Settas, Fady Hannah-Shmouni, Jerome Bertherat, Fabio R Faucz, and Constantine A Stratakis

Mutations in the protein kinase A (PKA) regulatory subunit type 1A (PRKAR1A) and armadillo repeat-containing 5 (ARMC5) genes cause Cushing‘s syndrome (CS) due to primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD) and primary bilateral macronodular adrenocortical hyperplasia (PBMAH), respectively. Between the two genes, ARMC5 is highly polymorphic with several variants in the population, whereas PRKAR1A has very little, if any, non-pathogenic variation in its coding sequence. We tested the hypothesis that ARMC5 variants may affect the clinical presentation of PPNAD and CS among patients with PRKAR1A mutations. In this study, 91 patients with PPNAD due to PRKAR1A mutations were tested for abnormal cortisol secretion or CS and for ARMC5 sequence variants. Abnormal cortisol secretion was present in 71 of 74 patients with ARMC5 variants, whereas 11 of 17 patients negative for ARMC5 variants did not have hypercortisolemia. The presence of ARMC5 variants was a statistically strong predictor of CS among patients with PRKAR1A mutations (P < 0.001). Among patients with CS due to PPNAD, ARMC5 variants were associated with lower cortisol levels at baseline (P = 0.04) and after high dose dexamethasone administration (P = 0.02). The ARMC5 p.I170V variant increased ARMC5 protein accumulation in vitro and decreased viability of NCI-H295 cells (but not HEK 293T cells). PPNAD tissues with ARMC5 variants showed stronger ARMC5 protein expression than those that carried a normal ARMC5 sequence. Taken together, our results suggest that ARMC5 variants among patients with PPNAD due to PRKAR1A defects may play the role of a genetic modifier for the presence and severity of hypercortisolemia.

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Fulvia Daffara, Silvia De Francia, Giuseppe Reimondo, Barbara Zaggia, Emiliano Aroasio, Francesco Porpiglia, Marco Volante, Angela Termine, Francesco Di Carlo, Luigi Dogliotti, Alberto Angeli, Alfredo Berruti, and Massimo Terzolo

Toxicity of adjuvant mitotane treatment is poorly known; thus, our aim was to assess prospectively the unwanted effects of adjuvant mitotane treatment and correlate the findings with mitotane concentrations. Seventeen consecutive patients who were treated with mitotane after radical resection of adrenocortical cancer (ACC) from 1999 to 2005 underwent physical examination, routine laboratory evaluation, monitoring of mitotane concentrations, and a hormonal work-up at baseline and every 3 months till ACC relapse or study end (December 2007). Mitotane toxicity was graded using NCI CTCAE criteria. All biochemical measurements were performed at our center and plasma mitotane was measured by an in-house HPLC assay. All the patients reached mitotane concentrations >14 mg/l and none of them discontinued definitively mitotane for toxicity; 14 patients maintained consistently elevated mitotane concentrations despite tapering of the drug. Side effects occurred in all patients but were manageable with palliative treatment and adjustment of hormone replacement therapy. Mitotane affected adrenal steroidogenesis with a more remarkable inhibition of cortisol and DHEAS than aldosterone. Mitotane induced either perturbation of thyroid function mimicking central hypothyroidism or, in male patients, inhibition of testosterone secretion. The discrepancy between salivary and serum cortisol, as well as between total and free testosterone, is due to the mitotane-induced increase in hormone-binding proteins which complicates interpretation of hormone measurements. A low-dose monitored regimen of mitotane is tolerable and able to maintain elevated drug concentrations in the long term. Mitotane exerts a complex effect on the endocrine system that may require multiple hormone replacement therapy.

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Maria Cristina De Martino, Richard A Feelders, Wouter W de Herder, Peter M van Koetsveld, Fadime Dogan, Joseph A M J L Janssen, A Marlijn Waaijers, Claudia Pivonello, Steven W J Lamberts, Annamaria Colao, Ronald R de Krijger, Rosario Pivonello, and Leo J Hofland

The mTOR pathway has recently been suggested as a new potential target for therapy in adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs). The aim of the current study is to describe the expression of the mTOR pathway in normal adrenals (NAs) and pathological adrenals and to explore whether there are correlation between the expression of these proteins and the in vitro response to sirolimus. For this purpose, the MTOR, S6K1 (RPS6KB1), and 4EBP1 (EIF4EBP1) mRNA expression were evaluated in ten NAs, ten adrenal hyperplasias (AHs), 17 adrenocortical adenomas (ACAs), and 17 ACCs by qPCR, whereas total(t)/phospho(p)-MTOR, t/p-S6K, and t/p-4EBP1 protein expression were assessed in three NAs, three AHs, six ACAs, and 20 ACCs by immunohistochemistry. The effects of sirolimus on cell survival and/or cortisol secretion in 12 human primary cultures of adrenocortical tumors (ATs) were also evaluated. In NAs and AHs, layer-specific expression of evaluated proteins was observed. S6K1 mRNA levels were lower in ACCs compared with NAs, AHs, and ACAs (P<0.01). A subset of ATs presented a moderate to high staining of the evaluated proteins. Median t-S6K1 protein expression in ACCs was lower than that in ACAs (P<0.01). Moderate to high staining of p-S6K1 and/or p-4EBP1 was observed in most ATs. A subset of ACCs not having moderate to high staining had a higher Weiss score than others (P<0.029). In primary AT cultures, sirolimus significantly reduced cell survival or cortisol secretion only in sporadic cases. In conclusion, these data suggest the presence of an activated mTOR pathway in a subset of ATs and a possible response to sirolimus only in certain ACC cases.

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Sisi Liu, Emmanouil Saloustros, Annabel Berthon, Matthew F Starost, Isabelle Sahut-Barnola, Paraskevi Salpea, Eva Szarek, Fabio R Faucz, Antoine Martinez, and Constantine A Stratakis

Primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD), whether in the context of Carney complex (CNC) or isolated, leads to ACTH-independent Cushing's syndrome (CS). CNC and PPNAD are caused typically by inactivating mutations of PRKAR1A, a gene coding for the type 1a regulatory subunit (R1α) of cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA). Mice lacking Prkar1a, specifically in the adrenal cortex (AdKO) developed CS caused by bilateral adrenal hyperplasia (BAH), which is formed from the abnormal proliferation of fetal-like adrenocortical cells. Celecoxib is a cyclooxygenase 2 (COX2) inhibitor. In bone, Prkar1a inhibition is associated with COX2 activation and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) production that, in turn, activates proliferation of bone stromal cells. We hypothesized that COX2 inhibition may have an effect in PPNAD. In vitro treatment of human cell lines, including one from a patient with PPNAD, with celecoxib resulted in decreased cell viability. We then treated AdKO and control mice with 1500 mg/kg celecoxib or vehicle. Celecoxib treatment led to decreased PGE2 and corticosterone levels, reduced proliferation and increased apoptosis of adrenocortical cells, and decreased steroidogenic gene expression. We conclude that, in vitro and in vivo, celecoxib led to decreased steroidogenesis. In a mouse model of PPNAD, celecoxib caused histological changes that, at least in part, reversed BAH and this was associated with a reduction of corticosterone levels.

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M Seki, K Nomura, D Hirohara, M Kanazawa, T Sawada, K Takasaki, and H Demura

A 58-year-old man had adrenocortical carcinoma in the right adrenal gland. The tumour secreted excessive cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate (DHEA-S), and had invaded the right hepatic lobe and vena cava. Eleven months after surgical tumour resection, the serum DHEA-S levels again increased. Local tumour recurrence and a metastasis was found in the lung. Eleven months after surgery chemotherapy with mitotane (o,p'-DDD) was initiated. Twelve weeks of mitotane reduced serum DHEA-S levels and caused these tumours to disappear. The patient was then treated with low-dose mitotane (1.5-2.0 g/day) for 2 years. Serum levels of mitotane remained at less than 10 microg/ml. Although such low serum levels of mitotane and delayed initiation of mitotane after surgery have been proposed to weaken the antineoplastic effect of mitotane, the patient had a remission for 2 years. However, there was then local re-recurrence with an increase in serum DHEA-S and death 4 months later. The histological features of neoplastic cells were quite different comparing tumour resected at surgery and tumour at autopsy. The latter had more frequent mitotic nuclei. This tumour was initially sensitive to mitotane, but later became insensitive.

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A Stigliano, L Cerquetti, M Borro, G Gentile, B Bucci, S Misiti, P Piergrossi, E Brunetti, M Simmaco, and V Toscano

Mitotane, 1,1-dichloro-2-(o-chlorophenyl)-2-(p-chloro-phenyl) ethane (o,p′-DDD), is a compound that represents the effective agent in the treatment of the adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), able to block cortisol synthesis. In this type of cancer, the biological mechanism induced by this treatment remains still unknown. In this study, we have already shown a greater impairment in the first steps of the steroidogenesis and recognized a little effect on cell cycle. We also evaluated the variation of proteomic profile of the H295R ACC cell line, either in total cell extract or in mitochondria-enriched fraction after treatment with mitotane. In total cell extracts, triose phosphate isomerase, α-enolase, D-3-phosphoglycerate dehydrogenase, peroxiredoxin II and VI, heat shock protein 27, prohibitin, histidine triad nucleotide-binding protein, and profilin-1 showed a different expression. In the mitochondrial fraction, the following proteins appeared to be down regulated: aldolase A, peroxiredoxin I, heterogenous nuclear ribonucleoprotein A2/B1, tubulin-β isoform II, heat shock cognate 71 kDa protein, and nucleotide diphosphate kinase, whereas adrenodoxin reductase, cathepsin D, and heat shock 70 kDa protein 1A were positively up-regulated. This study represents the first proteomic study on the mitotane effects on ACC. It permits to identify some protein classes affected by the drug involved in energetic metabolism, stress response, cytoskeleton structure, and tumorigenesis.

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Ségolène Hescot, Abdelhamid Slama, Anne Lombès, Angelo Paci, Hervé Remy, Sophie Leboulleux, Rita Chadarevian, Séverine Trabado, Larbi Amazit, Jacques Young, Eric Baudin, and Marc Lombès

Mitotane, 1,1-dichloro-2-(o-chlorophenyl)-2-(p-chlorophenyl)ethane is the most effective medical therapy for adrenocortical carcinoma, but its molecular mechanism of action remains poorly understood. Although mitotane is known to have mitochondrial (mt) effects, a direct link to mt dysfunction has never been established. We examined the functional consequences of mitotane exposure on proliferation, steroidogenesis, and mt respiratory chain, biogenesis and morphology, in two human adrenocortical cell lines, the steroid-secreting H295R line and the non-secreting SW13 line. Mitotane inhibited cell proliferation in a dose- and a time-dependent manner. At the concentration of 50 μM (14 mg/l), which corresponds to the threshold for therapeutic efficacy, mitotane drastically reduced cortisol and 17-hydroxyprogesterone secretions by 70%. This was accompanied by significant decreases in the expression of genes encoding mt proteins involved in steroidogenesis (STAR, CYP11B1, and CYP11B2). In both H295R and SW13 cells, 50 μM mitotane significantly inhibited (50%) the maximum velocity of the activity of the respiratory chain complex IV (cytochrome c oxidase (COX)). This effect was associated with a drastic reduction in steady-state levels of the whole COX complex as revealed by blue native PAGE and reduced mRNA expression of both mtDNA-encoded COX2 (MT-CO2) and nuclear DNA-encoded COX4 (COX4I1) subunits. In contrast, the activity and expression of respiratory chain complexes II and III were unaffected by mitotane treatment. Lastly, mitotane exposure enhanced mt biogenesis (increase in mtDNA content and PGC1 α (PPARGC1A) expression) and triggered fragmentation of the mt network. Altogether, our results provide first evidence that mitotane induced a mt respiratory chain defect in human adrenocortical cells.

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Kiran Nadella, Fabio R Faucz, and Constantine A Stratakis

Protein kinase A (PKA) regulatory subunit type 1A (PRKAR1A) defects lead to primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD). The KIT protooncogene (c-KIT) is not known to be expressed in the normal adrenal cortex (AC). In this study, we investigated the expression of c-KIT and its ligand, stem cell factor (SCF), in PPNAD and other cortisol-producing tumors of the adrenal cortex. mRNA and protein expression, by qRT-PCR, immunohistochemistry (IHC) and immunoblotting (IB), respectively, were studied. We then tested c-KIT and SCF responses to PRKAR1A introduction and PKA stimulation in adrenocortical cell lines CAR47 and H295R, which were also treated with the KIT inhibitor, imatinib mesylate (IM). Mice xenografted with H295R cells were treated with IM. There was increased c-KIT mRNA expression in PPNAD; IHC showed KIT and SCF immunoreactivity within certain nodular areas in PPNAD. IB data was consistent with IHC and mRNA data. PRKAR1A-deficient CAR47 cells expressed c-KIT; this was enhanced by forskolin and lowered by PRKAR1A reintroduction. Knockdown of PKA’s catalytic subunit (PRKACA) by siRNA reduced c-KIT levels. Treatment of the CAR47 cells with IM resulted in reduced cell viability, growth arrest, and apoptosis. Treatment with IM of mice xenografted with H295 cells inhibited further tumor growth. We conclude that c-KIT is expressed in PPNAD, an expression that appears to be dependent on PRKAR1A and/or PKA activity. In a human adrenocortical cell line and its xenografts in mice, c-KIT inhibition decreased growth, suggesting that c-KIT inhibitors may be a reasonable alternative therapy to be tested in PPNAD, when other treatments are not optimal.

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Zsófia Tömböl, Peter M Szabó, Viktor Molnár, Zoltán Wiener, Gergely Tölgyesi, János Horányi, Peter Riesz, Peter Reismann, Attila Patócs, István Likó, Rolf-Christian Gaillard, András Falus, Károly Rácz, and Peter Igaz

MicroRNAs (miRs) are involved in the pathogenesis of several neoplasms; however, there are no data on their expression patterns and possible roles in adrenocortical tumors. Our objective was to study adrenocortical tumors by an integrative bioinformatics analysis involving miR and transcriptomics profiling, pathway analysis, and a novel, tissue-specific miR target prediction approach. Thirty-six tissue samples including normal adrenocortical tissues, benign adenomas, and adrenocortical carcinomas (ACC) were studied by simultaneous miR and mRNA profiling. A novel data-processing software was used to identify all predicted miR–mRNA interactions retrieved from PicTar, TargetScan, and miRBase. Tissue-specific target prediction was achieved by filtering out mRNAs with undetectable expression and searching for mRNA targets with inverse expression alterations as their regulatory miRs. Target sets and significant microarray data were subjected to Ingenuity Pathway Analysis. Six miRs with significantly different expression were found. miR-184 and miR-503 showed significantly higher, whereas miR-511 and miR-214 showed significantly lower expression in ACCs than in other groups. Expression of miR-210 was significantly lower in cortisol-secreting adenomas than in ACCs. By calculating the difference between dCTmiR-511 and dCTmiR-503 (delta cycle threshold), ACCs could be distinguished from benign adenomas with high sensitivity and specificity. Pathway analysis revealed the possible involvement of G2/M checkpoint damage in ACC pathogenesis. To our knowledge, this is the first report describing miR expression patterns and pathway analysis in sporadic adrenocortical tumors. miR biomarkers may be helpful for the diagnosis of adrenocortical malignancy. This tissue-specific target prediction approach may be used in other tumors too.

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Stephanie Espiard, Ludivine Drougat, Nikolaos Settas, Sara Haydar, Kerstin Bathon, Edra London, Isaac Levy, Fabio R Faucz, Davide Calebiro, Jérôme Bertherat, Dong Li, Michael A Levine, and Constantine A Stratakis

Genetic variants in components of the protein kinase A (PKA) enzyme have been associated with various defects and neoplasms in the context of Carney complex (CNC) and in isolated cases, such as in primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD), cortisol-producing adrenal adenomas (CPAs), and various cancers. PRKAR1A mutations have been found in subjects with impaired cAMP-dependent signaling and skeletal defects; bone tumors also develop in both humans and mice with PKA abnormalities. We studied the PRKACB gene in 148 subjects with PPNAD and related disorders, who did not have other PKA-related defects and identified two subjects with possibly pathogenic PRKACB gene variants and unusual bone and endocrine phenotypes. The first presented with bone and other abnormalities and carried a de novo c.858_860GAA (p.K286del) variant. The second subject carried the c.899C>T (p.T300M or p.T347M in another isoform) variant and had a PPNAD-like phenotype. Both variants are highly conserved in the PRKACB gene. In functional studies, the p.K286del variant affected PRKACB protein stability and led to increased PKA signaling. The p.T300M variant did not affect protein stability or response to cAMP and its pathogenicity remains uncertain. We conclude that PRKACB germline variants are uncommon but may be associated with phenotypes that resemble those of other PKA-related defects. However, detailed investigation of each variant is needed as PRKACB appears to be only rarely affected in these conditions, and variants such as p.T300M maybe proven to be clinically insignificant, whereas others (such as p.K286del) are clearly pathogenic and may be responsible for a novel syndrome, associated with endocrine and skeletal abnormalities.