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A M Schmitt, S Schmid, T Rudolph, M Anlauf, C Prinz, G Klöppel, H Moch, P U Heitz, P Komminoth and A Perren

A small subset of familial pancreatic endocrine tumors (PET) arises in patients with von Hippel–Lindau syndrome and these tumors may have an adverse outcome compared to other familial PET. Sporadic PET rarely harbors somatic VHL mutations, but the chromosomal location of the VHL gene is frequently deleted in sporadic PET. A subset of sporadic PET shows active hypoxia signals on mRNA and protein level. To identify the frequency of functionally relevant VHL inactivation in sporadic PET and to examine a possible prognostic significance we correlated epigenetic and genetic VHL alterations with hypoxia signals. VHL mutations were absent in all 37 PETs examined. In 2 out of 35 informative PET (6%) methylation of the VHL promoter region was detected and VHL deletion by fluorescence in situ hybridization was found in 14 out of 79 PET (18%). Hypoxia inducible factor 1α (HIF1-α), carbonic anhydrase 9 (CA-9), and glucose transporter 1 (GLUT-1) protein was expressed in 19, 27, and 30% of the 152 PETs examined. Protein expression of the HIF1-α downstream target CA-9 correlated significantly with the expression of CA-9 RNA (P<0.001), VHL RNA (P<0.05), and VHL deletion (P<0.001) as well as with HIF1-α (P<0.005) and GLUT-1 immunohistochemistry (P<0.001). These PET with VHL alterations and signs of hypoxia signalling were characterized by a significantly shortened disease-free survival. We conclude that VHL gene impairment by promoter methylation and VHL deletion in nearly 25% of PET leads to the activation of the HIF-pathway. Our data suggest that VHL inactivation and consecutive hypoxia signals may be a mechanism for the development of sporadic PET with an adverse outcome.

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Xiulong Xu, Helen Ding, Geetha Rao, Shalini Arora, Constantine P Saclarides, Joseph Esparaz, Paolo Gattuso, Carmen C Solorzano and Richard A Prinz

The sonic hedgehog (SHH) pathway is activated in several types of malignancy and plays an important role in tumor cell proliferation and tumorigenesis. SHH binding to a 12-pass transmembrane receptor, Patched (PTCH), leads to freeing of Smoothened (SMO) and subsequent activation of GLI transcription factors. In the present study, we analyzed the expression of SHH, PTCH, SMO, and GLI1 in 31 follicular thyroid adenomas (FTA), 8 anaplastic thyroid carcinomas (ATC), and 51 papillary thyroid carcinomas (PTC) by immunohistochemical staining. More than 65% of FTA, PTC, and ATC specimens stained positive for SHH, PTCH, SMO, and GLI. However, the expression of the genes encoding these four molecules did not correlate with any clinicopathologic parameters, including the age, gender, the status of BRAF gene mutation, tumor stage, local invasion, and metastasis. Three thyroid tumor cell lines (KAT-18, WRO82, and SW1736) all expressed the genes encoding these four molecules. 5-Bromo-2-deoxyuridine labeling and MTT cell proliferation assays revealed that cyclopamine (CP), an inhibitor of the SHH pathway, was able to inhibit the proliferation of KAT-18 and WRO82 cells more effectively than SW1736 cells. CP led to the arrest of cell cycle or apoptosis. Knockdown of SHH and GLI expression by miRNA constructs that target SHH or GLI mRNA in KAT-18 and SW1736 cells led to the inhibition of cell proliferation. Our results suggest that the SHH pathway is widely activated in thyroid neoplasms and may have potential as an early marker of thyroid cancer or as a potential therapeutic target for thyroid cancer treatment.