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Diana E Benn, Bruce G Robinson and Roderick J Clifton-Bligh

The paraganglioma (PGL) syndromes types 1–5 are autosomal dominant disorders characterized by familial predisposition to PGLs, phaeochromocytomas (PCs), renal cell cancers, gastrointestinal stromal tumours and, rarely, pituitary adenomas. Each syndrome is associated with mutation in a gene encoding a particular subunit (or assembly factor) of succinate dehydrogenase (SDHx). The clinical manifestations of these syndromes are protean: patients may present with features of catecholamine excess (including the classic triad of headache, sweating and palpitations), or with symptoms from local tumour mass, or increasingly as an incidental finding on imaging performed for some other purpose. As genetic testing for these syndromes becomes more widespread, presymptomatic diagnosis is also possible, although penetrance of disease in these syndromes is highly variable and tumour development does not clearly follow a predetermined pattern. PGL1 syndrome (SDHD) and PGL2 syndrome (SDHAF2) are notable for high frequency of multifocal tumour development and for parent-of-origin inheritance: disease is almost only ever manifest in subjects inheriting the defective allele from their father. PGL4 syndrome (SDHB) is notable for an increased risk of malignant PGL or PC. PGL3 syndrome (SDHC) and PGL5 syndrome (SDHA) are less common and appear to be associated with lower penetrance of tumour development. Although these syndromes are all associated with SDH deficiency, few genotype–phenotype relationships have yet been established, and indeed it is remarkable that such divergent phenotypes can arise from disruption of a common molecular pathway. This article reviews the clinical presentations of these syndromes, including their component tumours and underlying genetic basis.

Free access

Patsy S H Soon, Edward Kim, Cindy K Pon, Anthony J Gill, Katrina Moore, Andrew J Spillane, Diana E Benn and Robert C Baxter

Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) play a role in tumour initiation and progression, possibly by inducing epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a series of cellular changes that is known to underlie the process of metastasis. The aim of this study was to determine whether CAFs and surrounding normal breast fibroblasts (NBFs) are able to induce EMT markers and functional changes in breast epithelial cancer cells. Matched pairs of CAFs and NBFs were established from fresh human breast cancer specimens and characterised by assessment of CXCL12 levels, α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) levels and response to doxorubicin. The fibroblasts were then co-cultured with MCF7 cells. Vimentin and E-cadherin expressions were determined in co-cultured MCF7 cells by immunofluorescence and confocal microscopy as well as by western blotting and quantitative PCR. Co-cultured MCF7 cells were also assessed functionally by invasion assay. CAFs secreted higher levels of CXCL12 and expressed higher levels of α-SMA compared with NBFs. CAFs were also less sensitive to doxorubicin as evidenced by less H2AX phosphorylation and reduced apoptosis on flow cytometric analysis of Annexin V compared with NBFs. When co-cultured with MCF7 cells, there was greater vimentin and less E-cadherin expression as well as greater invasiveness in MCF7 cells co-cultured with CAFs compared with those co-cultured with NBFs. CAFs have the ability to induce a greater degree of EMT in MCF7 cell lines, indicating that CAFs contribute to a more malignant breast cancer phenotype and their role in influencing therapy resistance should therefore be considered when treating breast cancer.

Free access

Goswin Y Meyer-Rochow, Nicole E Jackson, John V Conaglen, Denis E Whittle, Muthusamy Kunnimalaiyaan, Herbert Chen, Gunnar Westin, Johanna Sandgren, Peter Stålberg, Elham Khanafshar, Daniel Shibru, Quan-Yang Duh, Orlo H Clark, Electron Kebebew, Anthony J Gill, Rory Clifton-Bligh, Bruce G Robinson, Diana E Benn and Stan B Sidhu

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small RNAs (∼22 bp) that post-transcriptionally regulate protein expression and are found to be differentially expressed in a number of human cancers. There is increasing evidence to suggest that miRNAs could be useful in cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy. We performed miRNA microarray expression profiling on a cohort of 12 benign and 12 malignant pheochromocytomas and identified a number of differentially expressed miRNAs. These results were validated in a separate cohort of ten benign and ten malignant samples using real-time quantitative RT-PCR; benign samples had a minimum follow-up of at least 2 years. It was found that IGF2 as well as its intronic miR-483-5p was over-expressed, while miR-15a and miR-16 were under-expressed in malignant tumours compared with benign tumours. These miRNAs were found to be diagnostic and prognostic markers for malignant pheochromocytoma. The functional role of miR-15a and miR-16 was investigated in vitro in the rat PC12 pheochromocytoma cell line, and these miRNAs were found to regulate cell proliferation via their effect on cyclin D1 and apoptosis. These data indicate that miRNAs play a pivotal role in the biology of malignant pheochromocytoma, and represent an important class of diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers and therapeutic targets warranting further investigation.

Free access

Trisha Dwight, Aidan Flynn, Kaushalya Amarasinghe, Diana E Benn, Richard Lupat, Jason Li, Daniel L Cameron, Annette Hogg, Shiva Balachander, Ida L M Candiloro, Stephen Q Wong, Bruce G Robinson, Anthony T Papenfuss, Anthony J Gill, Alexander Dobrovic, Rodney J Hicks, Roderick J Clifton-Bligh and Richard W Tothill

Pheochromocytomas (PC) and paragangliomas (PGL) are endocrine tumors for which the genetic and clinicopathological features of metastatic progression remain incompletely understood. As a result, the risk of metastasis from a primary tumor cannot be predicted. Early diagnosis of individuals at high risk of developing metastases is clinically important and the identification of new biomarkers that are predictive of metastatic potential is of high value. Activation of TERT has been associated with a number of malignant tumors, including PC/PGL. However, the mechanism of TERT activation in the majority of PC/PGL remains unclear. As TERT promoter mutations occur rarely in PC/PGL, we hypothesized that other mechanisms – such as structural variations – may underlie TERT activation in these tumors. From 35 PC and four PGL, we identified three primary PCs that developed metastases with elevated TERT expression, each of which lacked TERT promoter mutations and promoter DNA methylation. Using whole genome sequencing, we identified somatic structural alterations proximal to the TERT locus in two of these tumors. In both tumors, the genomic rearrangements led to the positioning of super-enhancers proximal to the TERT promoter, that are likely responsible for the activation of the normally tightly repressed TERT expression in chromaffin cells