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Elizabeth Grubbs, Daniel Halperin, Steven G Waguespack, and Robert F Gagel

The multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) workshops had their beginnings at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario in June 1984. This initial meeting brought clinicians and scientists together to focus on mapping the gene for multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2). These efforts culminated in the identification of the RET protooncogene as the causative gene a decade later. Over the next 35 years there were a total of 16 international workshops focused on the several MEN syndromes. Importantly, these workshops were instrumental in efforts to define the molecular basis for multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1), MEN2, von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL), Carney Complex, hereditary pheochromocytoma and hyperparathyroidism. In this same spirit some 150 scientists and clinicians met at MD Anderson Cancer Center, 27–29 March 2019, for the 16th International Workshop on Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN2019). Appropriate to its location in a cancer centre, the workshop focused on important issues in the causation and treatment of malignant aspects of the MEN syndromes: medullary thyroid carcinoma, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours, malignant pheochromocytoma and parathyroid carcinoma. Workshops at the meeting focused on a better understanding of how the identified molecular defects in these genetic syndromes lead to transformation, how to apply targeted kinase inhibitors and immunotherapy to treat these tumours and important clinical management issues. This issue of Endocrine-Related Cancer describes these discussions and recommendations.

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Aguirre A de Cubas, L Javier Leandro-García, Francesca Schiavi, Veronika Mancikova, Iñaki Comino-Méndez, Lucía Inglada-Pérez, Manuel Perez-Martinez, Nuria Ibarz, Pilar Ximénez-Embún, Elena López-Jiménez, Agnieszka Maliszewska, Rocío Letón, Álvaro Gómez Graña, Carmen Bernal, Cristina Álvarez-Escolá, Cristina Rodríguez-Antona, Giuseppe Opocher, Javier Muñoz, Diego Megias, Alberto Cascón, and Mercedes Robledo

Pheochromocytomas (PCCs) and paragangliomas (PGLs) are rare neuroendocrine neoplasias of neural crest origin that can be part of several inherited syndromes. Although their mRNA profiles are known to depend on genetic background, a number of questions related to tumor biology and clinical behavior remain unanswered. As microRNAs (miRNAs) are key players in the modulation of gene expression, their comprehensive analysis could resolve some of these issues. Through characterization of miRNA profiles in 69 frozen tumors with germline mutations in the genes SDHD, SDHB, VHL, RET, NF1, TMEM127, and MAX, we identified miRNA signatures specific to, as well as common among, the genetic groups of PCCs/PGLs. miRNA expression profiles were validated in an independent series of 30 composed of VHL-, SDHB-, SDHD-, and RET-related formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded PCC/PGL samples using quantitative real-time PCR. Upregulation of miR-210 in VHL- and SDHB-related PCCs/PGLs was verified, while miR-137 and miR-382 were confirmed as generally upregulated in PCCs/PGLs (except in MAX-related tumors). Also, we confirmed overexpression of miR-133b as VHL-specific miRNAs, miR-488 and miR-885-5p as RET-specific miRNAs, and miR-183 and miR-96 as SDHB-specific miRNAs. To determine the potential roles miRNAs play in PCC/PGL pathogenesis, we performed bioinformatic integration and pathway analysis using matched mRNA profiling data that indicated a common enrichment of pathways associated with neuronal and neuroendocrine-like differentiation. We demonstrated that miR-183 and/or miR-96 impede NGF-induced differentiation in PC12 cells. Finally, global proteomic analysis in SDHB and MAX tumors allowed us to determine that miRNA regulation occurs primarily through mRNA degradation in PCCs/PGLs, which partially confirmed our miRNA–mRNA integration results.

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Sara Redaelli, Ivan Plaza-Menacho, and Luca Mologni

The rearranged during transfection (RET) proto-oncogene was recognized as the multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2) causing gene in 1993. Since then, much effort has been put into a clear understanding of its oncogenic signaling, its biochemical function and ways to block its aberrant activation in MEN2 and related cancers. Several small molecules have been designed, developed or redirected as RET inhibitors for the treatment of MEN2 and sporadic MTC. However, current drugs are mostly active against several other kinases, as they were not originally developed for RET. This limits efficacy and poses safety issues. Therefore, there is still much to do to improve targeted MEN2 treatments. New, more potent and selective molecules, or combinatorial strategies may lead to more effective therapies in the near future. Here, we review the rationale for RET targeting in MEN2, the use of currently available drugs and novel preclinical and clinical RET inhibitor candidates.

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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.

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Hugo Prazeres, Joana P Couto, Fernando Rodrigues, João Vinagre, Joana Torres, Vitor Trovisco, Teresa C Martins, Manuel Sobrinho-Simões, and Paula Soares

Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 and a subset of apparently sporadic medullary thyroid carcinoma (AS-MTC) are caused by germ line activating point mutations of the rearranged during transfection (RET) proto-oncogene. RET encodes a receptor with tyrosine kinase activity that targets several intracellular signaling cascades, such as RAS–RAF–ERK1/2, PIK3–AKT, and STAT transcription factors. The objective of this study was to assess the function of three germ line RET variants Arg886Trp, Ser649Leu, and Glu511Lys of undetermined pathogenic significance, which were found in three kindreds of isolated AS-MTC. For this purpose, we employed vectors expressing each of the RET variants and measured the number of NIH3T3 transformation foci and soft agar colonies, the degree of activation of known RET intracellular signaling targets (ERK1/2, STAT1, STAT3, and TCF4), and the extent of ERK1/2 inhibition on sorafenib treatment. We found that RET variants Arg886Trp and Glu511Lys have shown increased in vitro transforming potential in a glial-derived neurotrophic factor-dependent manner. In contrast, the Ser649Leu variant did not significantly increased the number of foci and agar colonies relative to wild-type RET (RET-WT). The variants Glu511Lys and Arg886Trp showed 10- and 12.5-fold ERK1/2 activation respectively, that was significantly higher than that observed for RET-WT (fivefold). Increased levels of STAT1 and TCF4 activation were only observed for RET Arg886Trp (2.5- and 3-fold versus 1.2- and 2-fold in RET-WT respectively). The three RET variants analyzed here were sensitive to treatment with sorafenib. In conclusion, our results allow to classify previously uncharacterized RET genotypes, which may be of use to define follow-up and therapeutic regimens.

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Iván Plaza-Menacho

It has been twenty-five years since the discovery of oncogenic germline RET mutations as the cause of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2). Intensive work over the last two and a half decades on RET genetics, signaling and cell biology has provided the current bases for the genotype–phenotype and functional correlations within this cancer syndrome. On the contrary, the structural and molecular basis for RET tyrosine kinase domain activation and oncogenic deregulation has remained largely elusive. Recent studies with a strong crystallographic and biochemical focus have started to elucidate key insights into such molecular and atomic details revealing unexpected and private mechanisms of actions and molecular determinants not previously envisioned. This review focuses on the structure and function of the RET receptor, and in particular, on what a more detailed view of the protein itself and what the current structural and molecular information tell us about the genotype and phenotype relationships in the cancer syndrome MEN2.

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Guido Rindi and Frediano Inzani

Neuroendocrine neoplasia is described in almost every tissue, either in the pure endocrine organs, the nerve structures or in the so-called diffuse neuroendocrine system. The current nomenclature contains time-honored, widely accepted definitions; however, it is different according to anatomical sites. Diverse definitions may generate confusion and non-standard patient management. The International Agency for Research on Cancer – World Health Organization (IARC-WHO) proposed a framework for universal classification of neuroendocrine neoplasia. Evidence indicates that neuroendocrine cancer is composed by cells with a distinctive phenotype characterized by the expression of general and specific neuroendocrine markers. The neuroendocrine phenotype is indicated as descriptor of a unique cancer category, now recommended for all organs as neuroendocrine neoplasm. Evidence indicates that neuroendocrine neoplasia may be well or poorly differentiated, with diverse incidence and prevalence in different organs. It is proposed that the well-differentiated neoplasm is universally defined as neuroendocrine tumor (NET) and the poorly differentiated as neoplasm neuroendocrine carcinoma (NEC). Evidence indicates that a cancer grading tool based on a proliferation measure by mitotic count, Ki67 % and/or necrosis assessment is useful to predict NET patient behavior. It is proposed to utilize this tool for grading NET universally, with site-specific cut-offs to be defined. It is also acknowledged that significant biological site-specific differences exist. It is recommended that current pathology reports contain this classification together with the current traditional classifiers. This IARC-WHO common classification framework for neuroendocrine neoplasm aims at uniformizing nomenclature toward different organs and at fostering the definition of a similar site-specific gene signature.

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Maria Domenica Castellone and Rosa Marina Melillo

Medullary thyroid carcinomas (MTC) arise from thyroid parafollicular, calcitonin-producing C-cells and can occur either as sporadic or as hereditary diseases in the context of familial syndromes, including multiple endocrine neoplasia 2A (MEN2A), multiple endocrine neoplasia 2B (MEN2B) and familial MTC (FMTC). In a large fraction of sporadic cases, and virtually in all inherited cases of MTC, activating point mutations of the RET proto-oncogene are found. RET encodes for a receptor tyrosine kinase protein endowed with transforming potential on thyroid parafollicular cells. As in other cancer types, microenvironmental factors play a critical role in MTC. Tumor-associated extracellular matrix, stromal cells and immune cells interact and influence the behavior of cancer cells both in a tumor-promoting and in a tumor-suppressing manner. Several studies have shown that, besides the neoplastic transformation of thyroid C-cells, a profound modification of tumor microenvironment has been associated to the RET FMTC/MEN2-associated oncoproteins. They influence the surrounding stroma, activating cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs), promoting cancer-associated inflammation and suppressing anti-cancer immune response. These mechanisms might be exploited to develop innovative anti-cancer therapies and novel prognostic tools in the context of familial, RET-associated MTC.

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Francesca Carlomagno, Teresa Guida, Suresh Anaganti, Livia Provitera, Svend Kjaer, Neil Q McDonald, Anderson J Ryan, and Massimo Santoro

ZD6474 (vandetanib, Zactima, Astra Zeneca) is an anilinoquinazoline used to target the receptor tyrosine kinase RET in familial and sporadic thyroid carcinoma (IC50: 100 nM). The aim of this study was to identify molecular determinants of RET sensitivity to ZD6474. Here, we show that mutation of RET tyrosine 806 to cysteine (Y806C) induced RET kinase resistance to ZD6474 (IC50: 933 nM). Y806 maps close to the gate-keeper position at the RET kinase nucleotide-binding pocket. Although tyrosine 806 is a RET auto-phosphorylation site, its substitution to phenylalanine (Y806F) did not markedly affect RET susceptibility to ZD6474 (IC50: 87 nM), suggesting that phosphorylation of Y806 is not required for compound binding. Accordingly, the introduction of a phosphomimetic residue (Y806E) also caused resistance to ZD6474, albeit of a lesser degree (IC50: 512 nM) than the cysteine mutation. Y806C/E RET mutants were also resistant to ZD6474 with respect to intracellular signalling and activation of an AP1-responsive promoter. We conclude that Y806 is a molecular determinant of RET sensitivity to ZD6474. Y806C is a natural RET mutation identified in a patient affected by multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B. Based on its rare occurrence, it is unlikely that Y806C will be a frequent cause of refractoriness to ZD6474; however, it may be envisaged that mutations at this site can mediate secondary resistance formation in patients treated with the compound.

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Luis V Syro, Fabio Rotondo, Leon D Ortiz, and Kalman Kovacs

Temozolomide is an alkylating chemotherapeutic agent used in malignant neuroendocrine neoplasia, melanoma, brain metastases and an essential component of adjuvant therapy in the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme and anaplastic astrocytoma. Since 2006, it has been used for the treatment of pituitary carcinomas and aggressive pituitary adenomas. Here, we discuss the current indications and results of temozolomide therapy in pituitary tumors, as well as frequently asked questions regarding temozolomide treatment, duration of therapy, dosage, tumor recurrence and resistance.