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Annunziata Di Domenico, Tabea Wiedmer, Ilaria Marinoni, and Aurel Perren

Neuroendocrine tumours (NET) of the gastrointestinal tract and the lung are a rare and heterogeneous group of tumours. The molecular characterization and the clinical classification of these tumours have been evolving slowly and show differences according to organs of origin. Novel technologies such as next-generation sequencing revealed new molecular aspects of NET over the last years. Notably, whole-exome/genome sequencing (WES/WGS) approaches underlined the very low mutation rate of well-differentiated NET of all organs compared to other malignancies, while the engagement of epigenetic changes in driving NET evolution is emerging. Indeed, mutations in genes encoding for proteins directly involved in chromatin remodelling, such as DAXX and ATRX are a frequent event in NET. Epigenetic changes are reversible and targetable; therefore, an attractive target for treatment. The discovery of the mechanisms underlying the epigenetic changes and the implication on gene and miRNA expression in the different subgroups of NET may represent a crucial change in the diagnosis of this disease, reveal new therapy targets and identify predictive markers. Molecular profiles derived from omics data including DNA mutation, methylation, gene and miRNA expression have already shown promising results in distinguishing clinically and molecularly different subtypes of NET. In this review, we recapitulate the major genetic and epigenetic characteristics of pancreatic, lung and small intestinal NET and the affected pathways. We also discuss potential epigenetic mechanisms leading to NET development.

Free access

Matthias S Dettmer, Anja Schmitt, Hans Steinert, David Capper, Holger Moch, Paul Komminoth, and Aurel Perren

The tall cell (TC) variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) has an unfavorable prognosis. The diagnostic criteria remain inconsistent, and the role of a minor TC component is unclear. Molecular diagnostic markers are not available; however, there are two potential candidates: BRAF V600E and telomerase reverse transcriptase (T ERT) promoter mutations. Using a novel approach, we enriched a collective with PTCs that harbored an adverse outcome, which overcame the limited statistical power of most studies. This enabled us to review 125 PTC patients, 57 of which had an adverse outcome. The proportion of TCs that constituted a poor prognosis was assessed. All of the tumors underwent sequencing for TERT promoter and BRAF V600E mutational status and were stained with an antibody to detect the BRAF V600E mutation. A 10% cutoff for TCs was significantly associated with advanced tumor stage and lymph node metastasis. Multivariate analysis showed that TCs above 10% were the only significant factor for overall, tumor-specific, and relapse-free survival. Seven percent of the cases had a TERT promoter mutation, whereas 61% demonstrated a BRAF mutation. The presence of TC was significantly associated with TERT promoter and BRAF mutations. TERT predicted highly significant tumor relapse (P<0.001). PTCs comprised of at least 10% TCs are associated with an adverse clinical outcome and should be reported accordingly. BRAF did not influence patient outcome. Nevertheless, a positive status should encourage the search for TCs. TERT promoter mutations are a strong predictor of tumor relapse, but their role as a surrogate marker for TCs is limited.

Free access

Annika Blank, Anja M Schmitt, Esther Korpershoek, Francien van Nederveen, Thomas Rudolph, Nicole Weber, Räto Thomas Strebel, Ronald de Krijger, Paul Komminoth, and Aurel Perren

Prediction of malignant behaviour of pheochromocytomas/sympathetic paragangliomas (PCCs/PGLs) is very difficult if not impossible on a histopathological basis. In a familial setting, it is well known that succinate dehydrogenase subunit B (SDHB)-associated PCC/PGL very often metastasise. Recently, absence of SDHB expression as measured through immunohistochemistry was shown to be an excellent indicator of the presence of an SDH germline mutation in PCC/PGL. SDHB loss is believed to lead to tumour formation by activation of hypoxia signals. To clarify the potential use of SDHB immunohistochemistry as a marker of malignancy in PCC/PGL and its association with classic hypoxia signalling we examined SDHB, hypoxia inducible factor-1α (Hif-1α) and its targets CA-9 and GLUT-1 expression on protein level using immunohistochemistry on a tissue micro array on a series of familial and sporadic tumours of 115 patients. Survival data was available for 66 patients. SDHB protein expression was lost in the tumour tissue of 12 of 99 patients. Of those 12 patients, 5 had an SDHB germline mutation, in 4 patients no germline mutation was detected and mutational status remained unknown in parts in 3 patients. Loss of SDHB expression was not associated with increased classic hypoxia signalling as detected by Hif-1α, CA-9 or GLUT-1 staining. Loss of SDHB expression was associated with an adverse outcome. The lack of correlation of SDHB loss with classic hypoxia signals argues against the current hypoxia hypothesis in malignant PCC/PGL. We suggest SDHB protein loss as a marker of adverse outcome both in sporadic and in familial PCC/PGL.

Free access

Simona Falletta, Stefano Partelli, Corrado Rubini, Dominik Nann, Andrea Doria, Ilaria Marinoni, Vanessa Polenta, Carmelina Di Pasquale, Ettore degli Uberti, Aurel Perren, Massimo Falconi, and Maria Chiara Zatelli

Medical therapy of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (P-NET) may take advantage of Everolimus treatment. However, the extent of therapeutic response cannot be predicted. This study was aimed to identify the possible predictive markers of response to Everolimus in P-NET. We found that Everolimus reduced the cell viability and induced apoptosis in primary cultures of 6 P-NET (P-NET-R), where the proliferative and antiapoptotic effects of IGF1 were blocked by Everolimus. On the contrary, 14 P-NET primary cultures (P-NET-NR) were resistant to Everolimus and IGF1, suggesting an involvement of PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway in the mechanism of resistance. The response to Everolimus in vitro was associated with an active AKT/mTOR pathway and seemed to be associated with a greater clinical aggressiveness. In addition, a patient sensitive to Everolimus in vitro was sensitive to this drug in vivo also and showed a positive p-AKT immunohistochemistry (IHC) at tissue level. Similarly, a patient resistant to Everolimus treatment after surgery was not sensitive to the drug in vitro and had a negative p-AKT IHC staining. Therefore, present data confirm that P-NET primary cultures may be considered a model for testing medical treatment efficacy and that IHC characterization of p-AKT might help in identifying human P-NET who can benefit from Everolimus treatment. These data encourage conducting a prospective multicenter study involving different groups of P-NET patients treated with Everolimus.

Free access

Esther Korpershoek, Bart-Jeroen Petri, Francien H van Nederveen, Winand N M Dinjens, Albert A Verhofstad, Wouter W de Herder, Sonja Schmid, Aurel Perren, Paul Komminoth, and Ronald R de Krijger

Pheochromocytomas (PCCs) are rare tumors that arise from chromaffin tissue in the adrenal medulla, but can also occur in the abdomen outside the adrenals and are then called sympathetic paragangliomas (sPGLs). According to the literature, between 15 and 25% of apparently sporadic adrenal PCC and sPGL are caused by germline mutations in RET, von Hippel–Lindau disease (VHL), succinate dehydrogenase subunit B (SDHB), or subunit D SDHD. However, few studies have addressed the mutationfrequency of these candidate genes in selected subgroups of PCC andsPGL, such as bilateral adrenal PCC or extra-adrenal sPGL, and none have looked at somatic mutations by analyzing tumor tissue. Therefore, we have investigated the occurrence of germline and somatic mutations in RET, VHL, SDHB, and SDHD in comparatively large series of bilateral adrenal PCC (n = 33 patients) and sPGL (n = 26 patients), with the aim of determining the mutation frequency of each of these genes and to establish a genetic testing algorithm. Twenty-one RET, two VHL germline, and one SDHD mutations were found in the patients with bilateral adrenal PCC. In sPGL, one novel SDHB germline and one novel SDHB somatic mutation were observed. In addition, two SDHD germline mutations were found. We conclude that germline RET mutations are predominantly found in bilateral PCC, and that somatic and germline SDHB and SDHD mutations usually occur in sPGL, which has practical consequences for genetic testing algorithms. We suggest that sequential mutation analysis should be directed first at RET, followed by VHL and SDHD for patients with bilateral adrenal PCC at diagnosis, and at SDHB and SDHD for patients with sPGL.

Free access

Mieke E R Henfling, Aurel A Perren, Anja M Schmitt, Christiane M Saddig, Achim A Starke, Robert G Riedl, Yvonne M H Versleijen-Jonkers, Diana M Sprij-Mooij, Frans C S Ramaekers, Leo J Hofland, and Ernst-Jan M Speel

Clinical and molecular studies have implicated epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), insulin-like growth factor (IGF) and target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathways in the regulation of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (PanNET) growth. Interpretation and comparison of these studies is complex due to clinical and molecular tumor heterogeneity. We therefore focused in this study on insulinomas, which we examined for mRNA and protein expression of EGFR, IGF and mTOR signaling pathway components by quantitative real-time PCR (n = 48) and immunohistochemistry (n = 86). Findings were compared with normal pancreatic islets and correlated with histopathological data and clinical outcome. Insulinomas showed low EGFR and high IGF2 expression. IGFBP2, IGFBP3 and IGFBP6 mRNA levels were 2- to 4-folds higher than those in islets. High protein expression of IGF2, IGF1R and INSR (in 51–92% of the tumors) and low-to-moderate expression of mTORC1 pathway proteins p-S6k and p-4EBP1 (7–28% of the tumors) were observed. Correlations were found between (1) ERK1 mRNA expression and that of numerous IGF pathway genes, (2) p-ERK and IGF1R protein expression and (3) decrease of IGF pathway components and both metastatic disease and shorter 10-year disease-free survival. In conclusion, our observations suggest that high expression of IGF signaling pathway components is a hallmark of insulinomas, but does not necessarily lead to increased mTOR signaling. Reduced expression of IGF pathway components may be an adverse prognostic factor in insulinomas.

Open access

Andreas Venizelos, Hege Elvebakken, Aurel Perren, Oleksii Nikolaienko, Wei Deng, Inger Marie B Lothe, Anne Couvelard, Geir Olav Hjortland, Anna Sundlöv, Johanna Svensson, Harrish Garresori, Christian Kersten, Eva Hofsli, Sönke Detlefsen, Merete Krogh, Halfdan Sorbye, and Stian Knappskog

High-grade (HG) gastroenteropancreatic (GEP) neuroendocrine neoplasms (NEN) are rare but have a very poor prognosis and represent a severely understudied class of tumours. Molecular data for HG GEP-NEN are limited, and treatment strategies for the carcinoma subgroup (HG GEP-NEC) are extrapolated from small-cell lung cancer (SCLC). After pathological re-evaluation, we analysed DNA from tumours and matched blood samples from 181 HG GEP-NEN patients; 152 neuroendocrine carcinomas (NEC) and 29 neuroendocrine tumours (NET G3). Based on the sequencing of 360 cancer-related genes, we assessed mutations and copy number alterations (CNA). For NEC, frequently mutated genes were TP53 (64%), APC (28%), KRAS (22%) and BRAF (20%). RB1 was only mutated in 14%, but CNAs affecting RB1 were seen in 34%. Other frequent copy number losses were ARID1A (35%), ESR1 (25%) and ATM (31%). Frequent amplifications/gains were found in MYC (51%) and KDM5A (45%). While these molecular features had limited similarities with SCLC, we found potentially targetable alterations in 66% of the NEC samples. Mutations and CNA varied according to primary tumour site with BRAF mutations mainly seen in colon (49%), and FBXW7 mutations mainly seen in rectal cancers (25%). Eight out of 152 (5.3%) NEC were microsatellite instable (MSI). NET G3 had frequent mutations in MEN1 (21%), ATRX (17%), DAXX, SETD2 and TP53 (each 14%). We show molecular differences in HG GEP-NEN, related to morphological differentiation and site of origin. Limited similarities to SCLC and a high fraction of targetable alterations indicate a high potential for better-personalized treatments.

Free access

Nele Garbrecht, Martin Anlauf, Anja Schmitt, Tobias Henopp, Bence Sipos, Andreas Raffel, Claus F Eisenberger, Wolfram T Knoefel, Marianne Pavel, Christian Fottner, Thomas J Musholt, Anja Rinke, Rudolf Arnold, Uta Berndt, Ursula Plöckinger, Bertram Wiedenmann, Holger Moch, Philipp U Heitz, Paul Komminoth, Aurel Perren, and Günter Klöppel

Somatostatin-producing neuroendocrine tumors (SOM-NETs) of the duodenum and pancreas appear to be heterogeneous. To determine their clinicopathological profiles, respective data were analyzed on a series of 82 duodenal and 541 pancreatic NETs. In addition, the clinical records of 821 patients with duodenal or pancreatic NETs were reviewed for evidence of a somatostatinoma syndrome. Predominant or exclusive expression of somatostatin was found in 21 (26%) duodenal and 21 (4%) pancreatic NETs. They were classified as sporadic (n=31) or neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)-associated duodenal NETs (n=3), gangliocytic paragangliomas (GCPGs; n=6), or poorly differentiated neuroendocrine carcinomas (pdNECs; n=2). In addition, five duodenal and four pancreatic SOM-NETs were found in five patients with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1). Metastases occurred in 13 (43%) patients with sporadic or NF1-associated SOM-NETs, but in none of the duodenal or pancreatic MEN1-associated SOM-NETs or GCPGs. Sporadic advanced (stage IV) SOM-NETs were more commonly detected in the pancreas than in the duodenum. None of the patients (including the 821 patients for whom only the clinical records were reviewed) fulfilled the criteria of a somatostatinoma syndrome. Our data show that somatostatin expression is not only seen in sporadic NETs but may also occur in GCPGs, pdNECs, and hereditary NETs. Surgical treatment is effective in most duodenal and many pancreatic SOM-NETs. MEN1-associated SOM-NETs and GCPGs follow a benign course, while somatostatin-producing pdNECs are aggressive neoplasms. The occurrence of the so-called somatostatinoma syndrome appears to be extremely uncommon.