Metabolites represent the highest layer of biological information. Their diverse chemical nature enables networks of chemical reactions that are critical for maintaining life by providing energy and building blocks. Quantification by targeted and untargeted analytical methods using either mass spectrometry or nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy has been applied to pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma (PPGL) with the long-term goal to improve diagnosis and therapy. PPGLs have unique features that provide useful biomarkers and clues for targeted treatments. First, high production rates of catecholamines and metanephrines allow for specific and sensitive detection of the disease in plasma or urine. Secondly, PPGLs are associated with heritable pathogenic variants (PVs) in around 40% of cases, many of which occur in genes encoding enzymes, such as succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) and fumarate hydratase (FH). These genetic aberrations lead to the overproduction of oncometabolites succinate or fumarate, respectively, and are detectable in tumors and blood. Such metabolic dysregulation can be exploited diagnostically, with the aim to ensure appropriate interpretation of gene variants, especially those with unknown significance, and facilitate early tumor detection through regular patient follow-up. Furthermore, SDHx and FH PV alter cellular pathways, including DNA hypermethylation, hypoxia signaling, redox homeostasis, DNA repair, calcium signaling, kinase cascades, and central carbon metabolism. Pharmacological interventions targeted toward such features have the potential to uncover treatments against metastatic PPGL, around 50% of which are associated with germline PV in SDHx. With the availability of omics technologies for all layers of biological information, personalized diagnostics and treatment is in close reach.
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Susan Richter, Timothy J Garrett, Nicole Bechmann, Roderick J Clifton-Bligh, and Hans K Ghayee
Susan Richter, Bei Qiu, Mirthe Ghering, Carola Kunath, Georgiana Constantinescu, Charlotte Luths, Christina Pamporaki, Nicole Bechmann, Leah Meuter, Aleksandra Kwapiszewska, Timo Deutschbein, Svenja Nölting, Mirko Peitzsch, Mercedes Robledo, Aleksander Prejbisz, Karel Pacak, Volker Gudziol, Henri J L M Timmers, and Graeme Eisenhofer
Head and neck paragangliomas (HNPGLs) are tumors of parasympathetic origin that occur at variable locations and are often secondary to germline mutations in succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) subunit genes. Occasionally, these tumors produce catecholamines. Here, we assessed whether different locations of HNPGLs relate to the presence of SDHx mutations, catecholamine production and other presentations. In this multicenter study, we collected clinical and biochemical data from 244 patients with HNPGLs and 71 patients without HNPGLs. We clarified that jugulotympanic HNPGLs have distinct features. In particular, 88% of jugulotympanic HNPGLs arose in women, among whom only 24% occurred due to SDHx mutations compared to 55% in men. Jugulotympanic HNPGLs were also rarely bilateral, were of a smaller size and were less often metastatic compared to carotid body and vagal HNPGLs. Furthermore, we showed that plasma concentrations of methoxytyramine (MTY) were higher (P < 0.0001) in patients with HNPGL than without HNPGL, whereas plasma normetanephrine did not differ. Only 3.7% of patients showed strong increases in plasma normetanephrine. Plasma MTY was positively related to tumor size but did not relate to the presence of SDHx mutations or tumor location. Our findings confirm that increases in plasma MTY represent the main catecholamine-related biochemical feature of patients with HNPGLs. We expect that more sensitive analytical methods will make biochemical testing of HNPGLs more practical in the future and enable more than the current 30% of patients to be identified with dopamine-producing HNPGLs. The sex-dependent differences in the development of HNPGLs may have relevance to the diagnosis, management and outcomes of these tumors.
Katharina Wang, Ina Schütze, Sebastian Gulde, Nicole Bechmann, Susan Richter, Jana Helm, Michael Lauseker, Julian Maurer, Astrid Reul, Gerald Spoettl, Barbara Klink, Doreen William, Thomas Knösel, Juliane Friemel, Michel Bihl, Achim Weber, Maria Fankhauser, Laura Schober, Diana Vetter, Martina Broglie Däppen, Christian G Ziegler, Martin Ullrich, Jens Pietzsch, Stefan R Bornstein, Christian Lottspeich, Matthias Kroiss, Martin Fassnacht, Vera Ursula Julia Wenter, Roland Ladurner, Constanze Hantel, Martin Reincke, Graeme Eisenhofer, Ashley B Grossman, Karel Pacak, Felix Beuschlein, Christoph J Auernhammer, Natalia S Pellegata, and Svenja Nölting
Aggressive pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGLs) are difficult to treat, and molecular targeting is being increasingly considered, but with variable results. This study investigates established and novel molecular-targeted drugs and chemotherapeutic agents for the treatment of PPGLs in human primary cultures and murine cell line spheroids. In PPGLs from 33 patients, including 7 metastatic PPGLs, we identified germline or somatic driver mutations in 79% of cases, allowing us to assess potential differences in drug responsivity between pseudohypoxia-associated cluster 1-related (n = 10) and kinase signaling-associated cluster 2-related (n = 14) PPGL primary cultures. Single anti-cancer drugs were either more effective in cluster 1 (cabozantinib, selpercatinib, and 5-FU) or similarly effective in both clusters (everolimus, sunitinib, alpelisib, trametinib, niraparib, entinostat, gemcitabine, AR-A014418, and high-dose zoledronic acid). High-dose estrogen and low-dose zoledronic acid were the only single substances more effective in cluster 2. Neither cluster 1- nor cluster 2-related patient primary cultures responded to HIF-2a inhibitors, temozolomide, dabrafenib, or octreotide. We showed particular efficacy of targeted combination treatments (cabozantinib/everolimus, alpelisib/everolimus, alpelisib/trametinib) in both clusters, with higher efficacy of some targeted combinations in cluster 2 and overall synergistic effects (cabozantinib/everolimus, alpelisib/trametinib) or synergistic effects in cluster 2 (alpelisib/everolimus). Cabozantinib/everolimus combination therapy, gemcitabine, and high-dose zoledronic acid appear to be promising treatment options with particularly high efficacy in SDHB-mutant and metastatic tumors. In conclusion, only minor differences regarding drug responsivity were found between cluster 1 and cluster 2: some single anti-cancer drugs were more effective in cluster 1 and some targeted combination treatments were more effective in cluster 2.
Nicole Bechmann, Mats Leif Moskopp, Martin Ullrich, Bruna Calsina, Pål William Wallace, Susan Richter, Markus Friedemann, Katharina Langton, Stephanie M J Fliedner, Henri J L M Timmers, Svenja Nölting, Felix Beuschlein, Martin Fassnacht, Aleksander Prejbisz, Karel Pacak, Hans K Ghayee, Stefan R Bornstein, Peter Dieterich, Jens Pietzsch, Ben Wielockx, Mercedes Robledo, Nan Qin, and Graeme Eisenhofer
Mutations that drive the stabilization of hypoxia inducible factor 2α (HIF2α) and downstream pseudohypoxic signaling are known to predispose to the development of pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGLs). However, any role of HIF2α in predisposition to metastatic disease remains unclear. To assess such a role we combined gene-manipulations in pheochromocytoma cell lines with retrospective analyses of patient data and gene expression profiling in tumor specimens. Among 425 patients with PPGLs identified with mutations in tumor-susceptibility genes, those with tumors due to activation of pseudohypoxic pathways had a higher frequency of metastatic disease than those with tumors due to activation of kinase-signaling pathways, even without inclusion of patients with mutations in SDHB (18.6% vs 4.3% in, P < 0.0001). Three out of nine (33%) patients with gain-of-function mutations in HIF2α had metastatic disease. In cell line studies, elevated expression of HIF2α enhanced cell proliferation and led to increased migration and invasion capacity. Moreover, HIF2α expression in HIF2α-deficient cells resulted in increased cell motility, diffuse cluster formation and emergence of pseudopodia indicating changes in cell adhesion and cytoskeletal remodeling. In a mouse liver metastasis model, Hif2a enhanced the metastatic load. Transcriptomics data revealed alterations in focal adhesion and extracellular matrix–receptor interactions in HIF2α-mutated PPGLs. Our translational findings demonstrate that HIF2α supports pro-metastatic behavior in PPGLs, though other factors remain critical for subsequent transition to metastasis. We identified LAMB1 and COL4A2 as new potential therapeutic targets for HIF2α-driven PPGLs. Identified HIF2α downstream targets might open a new therapeutic window for aggressive HIF2α-expressing tumors.