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Barbara Mariniello, Antonio Rosato, Gaia Zuccolotto, Beatrice Rubin, Maria Verena Cicala, Isabella Finco, Maurizio Iacobone, Anna Chiara Frigo, Ambrogio Fassina, Raffaele Pezzani, and Franco Mantero

Treatment options are insufficient in patients with adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC). Based on the efficacy of sorafenib, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, and everolimus, an inhibitor of the mammalian target of rapamycin in tumors of different histotype, we aimed at testing these drugs in adrenocortical cancer models. The expression of vascular endothelial growth factor and its receptors (VEGFR1–2) was studied in 18 ACCs, 33 aldosterone-producing adenomas, 12 cortisol-producing adenomas, and six normal adrenal cortex by real-time PCR and immunohistochemistry and by immunoblotting in SW13 and H295R cancer cell lines. The effects of sorafenib and everolimus, alone or in combination, were tested on primary adrenocortical cultures and SW13 and H295R cells by evaluating cell viability and apoptosis in vitro and tumor growth inhibition of tumor cell line xenografts in immunodeficient mice in vivo. VEGF and VEGFR1–2 were detected in all samples and appeared over-expressed in two-thirds of ACC specimens. Dose-dependent inhibition of cell viability was observed particularly in SW13 cells after 24 h treatment with either drug; drug combination produced markedly synergistic growth inhibition. Increasing apoptosis was observed in tumor cells treated with the drugs, particularly with sorafenib. Finally, a significant mass reduction and increased survival were observed in SW13 xenograft model undergoing treatment with the drugs in combination. Our data suggest that an autocrine VEGF loop may exist within ACC. Furthermore, a combination of molecularly targeted agents may have both antiangiogenic and direct antitumor effects and thus could represent a new therapeutic tool for the treatment of ACC.

Free access

Katja Kiseljak-Vassiliades, Yu Zhang, Stacey M Bagby, Adwitiya Kar, Nikita Pozdeyev, Mei Xu, Katherine Gowan, Vibha Sharma, Christopher D Raeburn, Maria Albuja-Cruz, Kenneth L Jones, Lauren Fishbein, Rebecca E Schweppe, Hilary Somerset, Todd M Pitts, Stephen Leong, and Margaret E Wierman

Adrenocortical cancer (ACC) is an orphan malignancy that results in heterogeneous clinical phenotypes and molecular genotypes. There are no curative treatments for this deadly cancer with 35% survival at five years. Our understanding of the underlying pathobiology and our ability to test novel therapeutic targets has been limited due to the lack of preclinical models. Here, we report the establishment of two new ACC cell lines and corresponding patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models. CU-ACC1 cell line and PDX were derived from a perinephric metastasis in a patient whose primary tumor secreted aldosterone. CU-ACC2 cell line and PDX were derived from a liver metastasis in a patient with Lynch syndrome. Short tandem repeat profiling confirmed consistent matches between human samples and models. Both exomic and RNA sequencing profiling were performed on the patient samples and the models, and hormonal secretion was evaluated in the new cell lines. RNA sequencing and immunohistochemistry confirmed the expression of adrenal cortex markers in the PDXs and human tumors. The new cell lines replicate two of the known genetic models of ACC. CU-ACC1 cells had a mutation in CTNNB1 and secreted cortisol but not aldosterone. CU-ACC2 cells had a TP53 mutation and loss of MSH2 consistent with the patient’s known germline mutation causing Lynch syndrome. Both cell lines can be transfected and transduced with similar growth rates. These new preclinical models of ACC significantly advance the field by allowing investigation of underlying molecular mechanisms of ACC and the ability to test patient-specific therapeutic targets.

Restricted access

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.

Free access

Fidéline Bonnet-Serrano and Jérôme Bertherat

This review describes the molecular alterations observed in the various types of tumors of the adrenal cortex, excluding Conn adenomas, especially the alterations identified by genomic approaches these last five years. Two main forms of bilateral adrenocortical tumors can be distinguished according to size and aspect of the nodules: primary pigmented nodular adrenal disease (PPNAD), which can be sporadic or part of Carney complex and primary bilateral macro nodular adrenal hyperplasia (PBMAH). The bilateral nature of the tumors suggests the existence of an underlying genetic predisposition. PPNAD and Carney complex are mainly due to germline-inactivating mutations of PRKAR1A, coding for a regulatory subunit of PKA, whereas PBMAH genetic seems more complex. However, genome-wide approaches allowed the identification of a new tumor suppressor gene, ARMC5, whose germline alteration could be responsible for at least 25% of PBMAH cases. Unilateral adrenocortical tumors are more frequent, mostly adenomas. The Wnt/beta-catenin pathway can be activated in both benign and malignant tumors by CTNNB1 mutations and by ZNRF3 inactivation in adrenal cancer (ACC). Some other signaling pathways are more specific of the tumor dignity. Thus, somatic mutations of cAMP/PKA pathway genes, mainly PRKACA, coding for the catalytic alpha-subunit of PKA, are found in cortisol-secreting adenomas, whereas IGF-II overexpression and alterations of p53 signaling pathway are observed in ACC. Genome-wide approaches including transcriptome, SNP, methylome and miRome analysis have identified new genetic and epigenetic alterations and the further clustering of ACC in subgroups associated with different prognosis, allowing the development of new prognosis markers.

Free access

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.

Free access

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.

Free access

L Cerquetti, B Bucci, R Marchese, S Misiti, U De Paula, R Miceli, A Muleti, D Amendola, P Piergrossi, E Brunetti, V Toscano, and A Stigliano

Mitotane, 1,1-dichloro-2-(o-chlorophenyl)-2-(p-chlorophenyl)ethane (o,p′-DDD) is an agent with adrenotoxic effect, which is able to block cortisol synthesis. This drug and radiotherapy are used also in adrenal cancer treatment even if their biological action in this neoplasia remains unknown. We investigated the effects of o,p′-DDD and ionizing radiations (IR) on cell growth inhibition and cell cycle perturbation in H295R and SW13 adrenocortical cancer cells. Both cell lines were irradiated at a 6 Gy dose and were treated with o,p′-DDD 10−5 M separately and with IR/o,p′-DDD in combination. This combination treatment induced an irreversible inhibition of cell growth in both adrenocortical cancer cells. Cell cycle analysis showed that IR alone and IR/o,p′-DDD in combination induced the cell accumulation in the G2 phase. At 120 h after IR, the cells were able to recover the IR-induced G2 block while cells treated with IR/o,p′-DDD were still arrested in G2 phase. In order to study the molecular mechanism involved in the G2 irreversible arrest, we have considered the H295R cell line showing the highest inhibition of cell proliferation associated with a noteworthy G2 arrest. In these cells, cyclin B1 and Cdk2 proteins were examined by western blot and Cdk2 kinase activity measured by assay kit. The H295R cells treated with IR/o,p′-DDD shared an increase in cyclin B1 amount as the coimmunoprecipitation of Cdc2–cyclin B1 complex. The kinase activity also shows an increase in the treated cells with combination therapy. Moreover, in these cells, sequence analysis of p53 revealed a large deletion of exons 8 and 9. The same irreversible block on G2 phase, induced by IR/o,p′-DDD treatment, happened in H295R cells with restored wild-type p53 suggesting that this mechanism is not mediated by p53 pathway.