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Cathy B Moelans, Joep de Ligt, Petra van der Groep, Pjotr Prins, Nicolle J M Besselink, Marlous Hoogstraat, Natalie D ter Hoeve, Miangela M Lacle, Robert Kornegoor, Carmen C van der Pol, Wendy W J de Leng, Ellis Barbé, Bert van der Vegt, John Martens, Peter Bult, Vincent T H B M Smit, Marco J Koudijs, Isaac J Nijman, Emile E Voest, Pier Selenica, Britta Weigelt, Jorge S Reis-Filho, Elsken van der Wall, Edwin Cuppen and Paul J van Diest

Male breast cancer (MBC) is extremely rare and accounts for less than 1% of all breast malignancies. Therefore, clinical management of MBC is currently guided by research on the disease in females. In this study, DNA obtained from 45 formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) MBCs with and 90 MBCs (52 FFPE and 38 fresh-frozen) without matched normal tissues was subjected to massively parallel sequencing targeting all exons of 1943 cancer-related genes. The landscape of mutations and copy number alterations was compared to that of publicly available estrogen receptor (ER)-positive female breast cancers (smFBCs) and correlated to prognosis. From the 135 MBCs, 90% showed ductal histology, 96% were ER-positive, 66% were progesterone receptor (PR)-positive, and 2% HER2-positive, resulting in 50, 46 and 4% luminal A-like, luminal B-like and basal-like cases, respectively. Five patients had Klinefelter syndrome (4%) and 11% of patients harbored pathogenic BRCA2 germline mutations. The genomic landscape of MBC to some extent recapitulated that of smFBC, with recurrent PIK3CA (36%) and GATA3 (15%) somatic mutations, and with 40% of the most frequently amplified genes overlapping between both sexes. TP53 (3%) somatic mutations were significantly less frequent in MBC compared to smFBC, whereas somatic mutations in genes regulating chromatin function and homologous recombination deficiency-related signatures were more prevalent. MDM2 amplifications were frequent (13%), correlated with protein overexpression (P = 0.001) and predicted poor outcome (P = 0.007). In conclusion, despite similarities in the genomic landscape between MBC and smFBC, MBC is a molecularly unique and heterogeneous disease requiring its own clinical trials and treatment guidelines.

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Adwitiya Kar, Yu Zhang, Betelehem W Yacob, Jordan Saeed, Kenneth D Tompkins, Stacey M Bagby, Todd M Pitts, Hilary Somerset, Stephen Leong, Margaret E Wierman and Katja Kiseljak-Vassiliades

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is an aggressive orphan malignancy with less than 35% 5-year survival and 75% recurrence. Surgery remains the primary therapy and mitotane, an adrenolytic, is the only FDA-approved drug with wide-range toxicities and poor tolerability. There are no targeted agents available to date. For the last three decades, H295R cell line and its xenograft were the only available preclinical models. We recently developed two new ACC patient-derived xenograft mouse models and corresponding cell lines (CU-ACC1 and CU-ACC2) to advance research in the field. Here, we have utilized these novel models along with H295R cells to establish the mitotic PDZ-binding kinase (PBK) as a promising therapeutic target. PBK is overexpressed in ACC samples and correlates with poor survival. We show that PBK is regulated by FOXM1 and targeting PBK via shRNA decreased cell proliferation, clonogenicity and anchorage-independent growth in ACC cell lines. PBK silencing inhibited pAkt, pp38MAPK and pHistone H3 altering the cell cycle. Therapeutically, targeting PBK with the small-molecule inhibitor HITOPK032 phenocopied PBK-specific modulation of pAkt and pHistone H3, but also induced apoptosis via activation of JNK. Consistent with in vitro findings, treatment of CU-ACC1 PDXs with HITOPK032 significantly reduced tumor growth by 5-fold (P < 0.01). Treated tumor tissues demonstrated increased rates of apoptosis and JNK activation, with decreased pAkt and Histone H3 phosphorylation, consistent with effects observed in ACC cell lines. Together these studies elucidate the mechanism of PBK in ACC tumorigenesis and establish the potential therapeutic potential of HITOPK032 in ACC patients.

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S Felder, H Jann, R Arsenic, T Denecke, V Prasad, B Knappe-Drzikova, S Maasberg, B Wiedenmann, M Pavel, A Pascher and U F Pape

Although gastric neuroendocrine neoplasias (gNEN) are an orphan disease, their incidence is rising. The heterogeneous clinical course powers the ongoing discussion of the most appropriate classification system and management. Prognostic relevance of proposed classifications was retrospectively analysed in 142 patients from a single tertiary referral centre. Baseline, management and survival data were acquired for statistical analyses. The distribution according to the clinicopathological typification was gNEN-1 (n = 86/60.6%), gNEN-2 (n = 7/4.9%), gNEN-3 (n = 24/16.9%) and gNEN-4 (n = 25/17.6%), while hypergastrinemia-associated gNEN-1 and -2 were all low-grade tumours (NET-G1/2), formerly termed sporadic gNEN-3 could be subdivided into gNEN-3 with grade 1 or 2 and gNEN-4 with grade 3 (NEC-G3). During follow-up 36 patients died (25%). The mean overall survival (OS) of all gNEN was 14.2 years. The OS differed statistically significant across all subgroups with either classification system. According to UICC 2017 TNM classification, OS differed for early and advanced stages, while WHO grading indicated poorer prognosis for NEC-G3. Cox regression analysis confirmed the independent prognostic validity of either classification system for survival. Particularly careful analysis of the clinical course of gNEN-1 (ECLomas, gastric carcinoids) confirmed their mostly benign, but recurrent and extremely slowly progressive behaviour with low risk of metastasis (7%) and an efficient long-term control by repetitive endoscopic procedures. Our study provides evidence for the validity of current classifications focusing on typing, grading and staging. These are crucial tools for risk stratification, especially to differentiate gNEN-1 as well as sporadic gNET and gNEC (gNEN-3 vs -4).

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Xuguang Zhu, Sunmi Park, Woo Kyung Lee and Sheue-yann Cheng

Anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) is an aggressive malignancy with limited treatment options. We explored novel treatment modalities by targeting epigenetic modifications using inhibitors of BET (e.g. BRD4) activity. We evaluated the efficacy in the treatment of ATC of a novel BET inhibitor, PLX51107 (PLX), currently in clinical trials for other solid tumors and hematologic malignancies, alone or combined with a MEK inhibitor, PD0325901(PD). To elucidate the effects of these inhibitors on growth of ATC, we treated ATC cells derived from patient tumors (THJ-11T and THJ-16T cells) and mouse xenograft tumors with inhibitors. We found PLX and PD inhibitors singly inhibited proliferation of both human ATC cells lines, but together exhibited stronger inhibition of proliferation. In mouse xenografts, the combination treatment almost totally blocked growth in xenograft tumors derived from both ATC cells. PD effectively attenuated MEK-ERK signaling, which was further enhanced by PLX in the combined treatment in cultured cells and tumors. Importantly, the combination of PLX and PD acted synergistically to suppress MYC transcription to increase p27 in decreasing tumor cell proliferation. PLX and PD cooperated to upregulate pro-apoptotic proteins to promote apoptosis. These two inhibitors converged to reduce the binding of BRD4 to the MYC promoter to suppress the MYC expression. These findings indicate that combined treatment of BET and MEK-ERK inhibitors was more effective to treat ATC than single targeted treatment. Synergistic suppression of MYC transcription via collaborative actions on chromatin modifications suggested that targeting epigenetic modifications could provide novel treatment opportunities for ATC.

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Dimitra Argyro Vassiliadi and Stylianos Tsagarakis

Primary bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia (PBMAH) is a highly heterogeneous entity. The incidental identification of an increasing number of cases has shifted its clinical expression from the rarely encountered severe forms, regarding both cortisol excess and adrenal enlargement, to mild forms of asymptomatic or oligosymptomatic cases with less impressive imaging phenotypes. Activation of cAMP/PKA pathway, either due to alterations of the different downstream signalling pathways or through aberrantly expressed G-protein coupled receptors, relates to both cortisol secretion and adrenal growth. Germline ARMC5 mutations are a frequent genetic defect. The diagnostic approach consists of both imaging and hormonal characterisation. Imaging characterisation should be done separately for each lesion. Endocrine evaluation in cases with clinically overt Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is similar to that applied for all forms of CS. In incidentally detected PBMAH, hormonal evaluation includes testing for primary aldosteronism, pheochromocytoma, and evaluation for autonomous cortisol secretion, using the 1-mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test. Midnight cortisol or 24-hr urinary free cortisol may aid in establishing the degree of cortisol excess. In patients with hypercortisolism ACTH levels should be measured in order to establish ACTH-independency. At variance with other forms of CS, PBMAH may be characterized by a distinct pattern of inefficient steroidogenesis. The appropriate management of PMAH remains controversial. Bilateral adrenalectomy results in lifetime steroid dependency and is better reserved only for patients with severe CS. Unilateral adrenalectomy might be considered in selected patients. In cases where the regulation of cortisol secretion is mediated by aberrant receptors there is some potential for medical therapy.

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Fabian Pitoia and Fernando Jerkovich

The stratification of patients with differentiated thyroid cancer based on their initial risk of recurrence, according to specific clinical, histopathological and perioperative data, is an important starting point for tailoring the follow-up during the first 1 to 2 years after initial therapy (surgery with or without radioiodine ablation). However, risk of recurrence re-stratification based on new clinical data that becomes available after considering the response to treatment (dynamic risk assessment) provides a more accurate prediction of the status at final follow-up and a more individualized approach. In this review, we summarized the available data regarding dynamic risk of recurrence and the suggested management of differentiated thyroid cancer patients according to the response to treatment. The use of this strategy is crucial to avoid overtreatment and intensive follow-up of the vast majority patients who will have a very good prognosis and, on the other hand, focus therapeutic efforts on those patients who will have a worse prognosis. In the future, molecular biology analysis of the tumors and well-designed prospective studies will probably refine the risk of recurrence prediction.

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Fiorenza Gianì, Giuseppe Pandini, Nunzio Massimo Scalisi, Paolo Vigneri, Carmine Fazzari, Pasqualino Malandrino, Marco Russo, Romilda Masucci, Antonino Belfiore, Gwabriella Pellegriti and Riccardo Vigneri

Thyroid cancer incidence is increased in volcanic areas where environment pollution biocontaminates residents. Tungsten (W) is the most increased heavy metal in drinking water of Mount Etna volcanic area where it exceeds the normal range in the urine of 27% inhabitants. The possible connection between increased tungsten and thyroid cancer has never been studied. We investigated in vitro the effect tungsten on both human thyrocytes in primary culture, thyrospheres (aggregates of stem/precursor thyroid cells) and thyrocytes differentiated from tungsten-exposed thyrospheres. Chronic exposure to low-dose (nanomolar range, as in the urines of volcanic area residents) soluble tungsten had major biological effects on thyroid stem/precursor cells, promoting growth with a biphasic (hormetic) dose-response and reducing apoptosis. No such effects were observed in mature thyrocytes. In addition, tungsten-exposed thyrospheres had abnormal expression of genes commonly altered also in thyroid cancer and increased activation of the DNA-repair proteins H2AX and 53BP1. Moreover, exposure to tungsten decreased thyrosphere differentiation, as indicated by the reduced expression of thyroid-specific genes in derived thyrocytes that also showed preneoplastic changes such as increased anchorage-independent growth, clonogenic growth and migration capacity. The mechanism of action of tungsten on thyroid stem/precursor cells is unclear but involves membrane G-proteins and activation of the ERK signaling pathway. These data indicate that chronic exposure to slightly increased tungsten, harmless for mature thyrocytes, importantly affects the biology of stem/precursor thyroid cells and of their progeny, inducing characteristics of preneoplastic transformation.

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Christodoulos P Pipinikas, Alison M Berner, Teresa Sposito and Christina Thirlwell

Neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) are a relatively rare group of heterogeneous tumours originating from neuroendocrine cells found throughout the body. Pancreatic NENs (PanNENs) are the second most common pancreatic malignancy accounting for 1–3% of all neoplasms developing in the pancreas. Despite having a low background mutation rate, driver mutations in MEN1, DAXX/ATRX and mTOR pathway genes (PTEN, TSC1/2) are implicated in disease development and progression. Their increased incidence coupled with advances in sequencing technologies has reignited the interest in PanNEN research and has accelerated the acquisition of molecular data. Studies utilising such technological advances have further enriched our knowledge of PanNENs’ biology through novel findings, including higher-than-expected presence of germline mutations in 17% of sporadic tumours of no familial background, identification of novel mutational signatures and complex chromosomal rearrangements and a dysregulated epigenetic machinery. Integrated genomic studies have progressed the field by identifying the synergistic action between different molecular mechanisms, while holding the promise for deciphering disease heterogeneity. Although our understanding is far from being complete, these novel findings have provided the optimism of shaping the future of PanNEN research, ultimately leading to an era of precision medicine for NETs. Here, we recapitulate the existing knowledge on pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PanNETs) and discuss how recent, novel findings have furthered our understanding of these complex tumours.

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Ben C Whitelaw

Temozolomide is an oral chemotherapy used to treat aggressive pituitary tumours since 2006. It is inexpensive and well tolerated, the main side effects are fatigue, nausea and cytopenia. Overall the studies demonstrate approximately 70% response rate for temozolomide, if response is defined radiologically as complete, partial response or stable disease. Using the more stringent criteria of complete or partial response, the success rate is near 40%. Functioning tumours respond more frequently than non-functioning tumours. Tumours which are depleted of methyl guanine methyltransferase (MGMT), as assessed by immunohistochemistry, also are more likely to respond. Temozolomide has an established role in treating pituitary tumours which have demonstrated metastases or which are refractory and progressing, despite all conventional treatment (so-called salvage treatment). The challenge is to offer temozolomide earlier in the pathway if appropriate. Tumours which demonstrate aggressive clinical behaviour (defined as clinically relevant growth despite optimal treatment) should be considered for temozolomide. One common situation when this might occur is tumour progression after surgery and radiotherapy. It is unnecessary to wait until salvage treatment is required. Anticipated (but not yet demonstrated) aggressive behaviour can be regarded as a potential indication for temozolomide, but there is currently insufficient evidence to recommend this. Ideally a trial should assess this potential indication. Early treatment could be considered in selected cases when high levels of proliferation and invasion were demonstrated, causing significant clinical concern.

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Christina M Knippler, Motoyasu Saji, Neel Rajan, Kyle Porter, Krista M D La Perle and Matthew D Ringel

The number of individuals who succumb to thyroid cancer has been increasing and those who are refractory to standard care have limited therapeutic options, highlighting the importance of developing new treatments for patients with aggressive forms of the disease. Mutational activation of MAPK signaling, through BRAF and RAS mutations and/or gene rearrangements, and activation of PI3K signaling, through mutational activation of PIK3CA or loss of PTEN, are well described in aggressive thyroid cancer. We previously reported overactivation and overexpression of p21-activated kinases (PAKs) in aggressive human thyroid cancer invasive fronts and determined that PAK1 functionally regulated thyroid cancer cell migration. We reported mechanistic crosstalk between the MAPK and PAK pathways that are BRAF-dependent but MEK independent, suggesting that PAK and MEK inhibition might be synergistic. In the present study, we tested this hypothesis. Pharmacologic inhibition of group I PAKs using two PAK kinase inhibitors, G-5555 or FRAX1036, reduced thyroid cancer cell viability, cell cycle progression and migration and invasion, with greater potency for G-5555. Combination of G-5555 with vemurafenib was synergistic in BRAFV600E-mutated thyroid cancer cell lines. Finally, G-5555 restrained thyroid size of BRAFV600E-driven murine papillary thyroid cancer by >50% (P < 0.0001) and reduced carcinoma formation (P = 0.0167), despite maintenance of MAPK activity. Taken together, these findings suggest both that group I PAKs may be a new therapeutic target for thyroid cancer and that PAK activation is functionally important for BRAFV600E-mediated thyroid cancer development.