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Maria Chiara Zatelli, Andrea Luchin, Federico Tagliati, Stefania Leoni, Daniela Piccin, Marta Bondanelli, Roberta Rossi, and Ettore C degli Uberti

Breast cancer cells are usually sensitive to several chemotherapeutic regimens, but they can develop chemoresistance after prolonged exposure to cytotoxic drugs, acquiring a more aggressive phenotype. Drug resistance might involve the multi-drug resistance (MDR) 1 gene, encoding a transmembrane glycoprotein p-170 (P-gp), which antagonizes intracellular accumulation of cytotoxic agents, such as doxorubicin. We previously demonstrated that type 2 cyclooxygenase (COX-2) inhibitors can reverse the chemoresistance phenotype of a medullary thyroid carcinoma cell line by inhibiting P-gp expression and function. The aim of our study was to investigate the role of COX-2 inhibitors in modulating chemoresistance in a human breast cancer cell line, MCF7. MCF7 cells, expressing COX-2 but not MDR1, were treated with increasing doses of doxorubicin, and they became chemoresistant after 10 days of treatment, in association with MDR1 expression induction. This effect was reversed by doxorubicin withdrawal and prevented by co-incubation with N-[2-(cyclohexyloxy)4-nitrophenyl]-methanesulfonamide (NS-398), a selective COX-2 inhibitor. Treatment with NS-398 alone did not influence cell viability of a resistant MCF7 cell clone (rMCF7), but sensitized rMCF7 cells to the cytotoxic effects of doxorubicin. Moreover, treatment with NS-398 significantly reduced MDR1 expression in rMCF7 cells. Doxorubicin-induced membrane P-gp expression and function was also greatly impaired. Our data therefore support the hypothesis that COX-2 inhibitors can prevent or reduce the development of the chemoresistance phenotype in breast cancer cells by inhibiting P-gp expression and function.

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Daniela Molè, Teresa Gagliano, Erica Gentilin, Federico Tagliati, Claudio Pasquali, Maria Rosaria Ambrosio, Giancarlo Pansini, Ettore C degli Uberti, and Maria Chiara Zatelli

Dysregulation of the protein kinase C (PKC) signaling pathway has been implicated in tumor progression. In this study, we investigate the effects of a PKC inhibitor, Enzastaurin, in human pancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms (PNN) primary cultures and in the human pancreatic endocrine cancer cell line, BON1. To this aim six human PNN dispersed in primary cultures and BON1 cells were treated without or with 1–10 μM Enzastaurin and/or 100 nM IGF1 in the presence or absence of serum. Cell viability and apoptosis were evaluated after 48–72 h; Chromogranin A (CgA) and/or insulin secretion was assessed after 6 h of incubation. PKC expression was investigated by immunofluorescence and western blot. We found that Enzastaurin significantly reduced human PNN primary culture cell viability, as well as CgA and insulin secretion. Moreover, in the BON1 cell line Enzastaurin inhibited cell proliferation at 5 and 10 μM by inducing caspase-mediated apoptosis, and reduced phosphorylation of glycogen synthetase kinase 3β (GSK3β) and of Akt, both downstream targets of PKC pathway and pharmacodynamic markers for Enzastaurin. In addition, Enzastaurin blocked the stimulatory effect of IGF1 on cell proliferation, and reduced CgA expression and secretion in BON1 cells. Two different PKC isoforms are expressed at different levels and have partially different subcellular localization in BON1 cells. In conclusion, Enzastaurin reduces cell proliferation by inducing apoptosis, with a mechanism likely involving GSK3β signaling, and inhibits secretory activity in PNN in vitro models, suggesting that Enzastaurin might represent a possible medical treatment of human PNN.

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Maria Chiara Zatelli, Mirella Torta, Antonette Leon, Maria Rosaria Ambrosio, Massimo Gion, Paola Tomassetti, Filippo De Braud, Gianfranco Delle Fave, Luigi Dogliotti, and Ettore C degli Uberti

Elevated circulating chromogranin A (CgA) levels are found in neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), but the diagnostic usefulness of this marker is still debatable. To assess the role of CgA for the diagnosis of gastroenteropancreatic (GEP) NETs and the identification of metastatic patients, an Italian multicenter observational study has been performed. CgA was evaluated in 202 GEP NET patients by IRMA and ELISA. The cutoffs for diagnosis and presence of metastases were identified by receiver-operating characteristic (ROC) curve. We found good correlation between IRMA and ELISA. The ROC analysis identified a cutoff of 53 ng/ml for IRMA and 16 U/l for ELISA as discriminating between controls and patients with active disease (sensitivity 71.3 and 84%; specificity 71 and 85% respectively). Metastases were present in 123 patients, having significantly higher CgA levels than patients without metastases. ROC analysis identified a cutoff of 146 ng/ml for IRMA and 67.3 U/l for ELISA as discriminating between patients with and without metastases (sensitivity 57 and 63.3%; specificity 55.6 and 71.4% respectively). For pancreatic NETs positive and negative predictive values were 84 and 78% respectively (90% specificity and 68% sensitivity). We found lower CgA levels in patients with extensive metastatic spread than in those with liver metastases only. These data assess the role of CgA evaluation in GEP NETs, and demonstrate that higher CgA levels associate with metastatic disease, confirming that CgA levels can provide a helpful practical biochemical marker for the clinical management of NETs, but with low sensitivity and specificity.

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Maria Chiara Zatelli, Mariella Minoia, Chiara Martini, Federico Tagliati, Maria Rosaria Ambrosio, Marco Schiavon, Mattia Buratto, Fiorella Calabrese, Erica Gentilin, Giorgio Cavallesco, Lisa Berdondini, Federico Rea, and Ettore C degli Uberti

Bronchial carcinoids (BCs) are rare tumors originating from endocrine cells dispersed in the respiratory epithelium. It has been previously demonstrated that everolimus, or RAD001, an mTOR inhibitor, has potent antiproliferative effects in human endocrine tumors. Our aim was to evaluate the possible antiproliferative effects of everolimus in human BCs in primary culture. We collected 24 BCs that were dispersed in primary cultures, treated without or with 1 nM–1 μM everolimus, 10 nM SOM230 (pasireotide, a somatostatin receptor multiligand), and/or 50 nM IGF1. Cell viability was evaluated after 48 h, and chromogranin A (CgA) as well as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) secretion was assessed after 8 h incubation. Somatostatin receptors, mTOR, and AKT expression were investigated by quantitative PCR. We found that in 15 cultures (67.5%), everolimus significantly reduced cell viability (by ∼30%; P<0.05 versus control), inhibited p70S6K activity (−30%), and blocked IGF1 proliferative effects. Everolimus also significantly reduced CgA (by ∼20%) and VEGF (by ∼15%) secretion. Cotreatment with SOM230 did not exert additive effects on cell viability and secretory activity. AKT expression was similar in responder and nonresponder tissues, while mTOR expression was significantly higher in the responder group, which was characterized by higher CgA plasma levels and bigger tumors with higher mitotic index and angiogenesis. Our data demonstrate that everolimus reduces VEGF secretion and cell viability in BCs with a mechanism likely involving IGF1 signaling, suggesting that it might represent a possible medical treatment for BCs.

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Maria Chiara Zatelli, Daniela Piccin, Cristina Vignali, Federico Tagliati, Maria Rosaria Ambrosio, Marta Bondanelli, Vincenzo Cimino, Antonio Bianchi, Herbert A Schmid, Massimo Scanarini, Alfredo Pontecorvi, Laura De Marinis, Giulio Maira, and Ettore C degli Uberti

Somatostatin (SRIF) analogs have been employed in medical therapy of non-functioning pituitary adenomas (NFA), with contrasting results. Previous evidence showed that SRIF can exert its antiproliferative effects by reducing vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) secretion and action, and that VEGF expression may be related to pituitary tumor growth. The aim of our study was to clarify the possible effects of a multireceptor SRIF ligand on VEGF secretion and cell proliferation in human NFA primary cultures. We assessed the expression of SRIF receptors (SSTR1–5), the in vitro effects on VEGF secretion, and on cell viability of SRIF and of the stable SRIF analog pasireotide (SOM230), which activates SSTR1, 2, 3, and 5. Twenty-five NFA were examined by RT-PCR for expression of α-subunit, SSTR, VEGF, and VEGF receptors 1 (VEGF-R1) and 2 (VEGF-R2). Primary cultures were tested with SRIF and with pasireotide. All NFA samples expressed α-sub, VEGF and VEGFR-1 and 2, while SSTR expression pattern was highly variable. Two different groups were identified according to VEGF secretion inhibition by SRIF. VEGF secretion and cell viability were reduced by SRIF and pasireotide in the ‘responder’ group, but not in the ‘non-responder’ group, including NFA expressing SSTR5. SRIF and pasireotide completely blocked forskolin-induced VEGF secretion. In addition, SRIF and pasireotide completely abrogated the promoting effects of VEGF on NFA cell viability. Our data demonstrate that pasireotide can inhibit NFA cell viability by inhibiting VEGF secretion, and suggest that the multireceptor-SSTR agonist pasireotide might be useful in medical therapy of selected NFA.