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Kiran Nadella, Fabio R Faucz, and Constantine A Stratakis

Protein kinase A (PKA) regulatory subunit type 1A (PRKAR1A) defects lead to primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD). The KIT protooncogene (c-KIT) is not known to be expressed in the normal adrenal cortex (AC). In this study, we investigated the expression of c-KIT and its ligand, stem cell factor (SCF), in PPNAD and other cortisol-producing tumors of the adrenal cortex. mRNA and protein expression, by qRT-PCR, immunohistochemistry (IHC) and immunoblotting (IB), respectively, were studied. We then tested c-KIT and SCF responses to PRKAR1A introduction and PKA stimulation in adrenocortical cell lines CAR47 and H295R, which were also treated with the KIT inhibitor, imatinib mesylate (IM). Mice xenografted with H295R cells were treated with IM. There was increased c-KIT mRNA expression in PPNAD; IHC showed KIT and SCF immunoreactivity within certain nodular areas in PPNAD. IB data was consistent with IHC and mRNA data. PRKAR1A-deficient CAR47 cells expressed c-KIT; this was enhanced by forskolin and lowered by PRKAR1A reintroduction. Knockdown of PKA’s catalytic subunit (PRKACA) by siRNA reduced c-KIT levels. Treatment of the CAR47 cells with IM resulted in reduced cell viability, growth arrest, and apoptosis. Treatment with IM of mice xenografted with H295 cells inhibited further tumor growth. We conclude that c-KIT is expressed in PPNAD, an expression that appears to be dependent on PRKAR1A and/or PKA activity. In a human adrenocortical cell line and its xenografts in mice, c-KIT inhibition decreased growth, suggesting that c-KIT inhibitors may be a reasonable alternative therapy to be tested in PPNAD, when other treatments are not optimal.

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Giampaolo Trivellin, Fabio R Faucz, Adrian F Daly, Albert Beckers, and Constantine A Stratakis

We recently described X-linked acrogigantism (X-LAG) in sporadic cases of infantile gigantism and a few familial cases of pituitary gigantism in the context of the disorder known as familial isolated pituitary adenomas. X-LAG cases with early onset gigantism (in infants or toddlers) shared copy number gains (CNG) of the distal long arm of chromosome X (Xq26.3). In all patients described to date with Xq26.3 CNG and acro-gigantism, the only coding gene sequence shared by all chromosomal defects was that of GPR101. GPR101 is a class A, rhodopsin-like orphan guanine nucleotide-binding protein (G protein)-coupled receptor (GPCR) with no known endogenous ligand. We review what is known about GPR101, specifically its expression profile in human and animal models, the evidence supporting causation of X-LAG and possibly other roles, including its function in growth, puberty and appetite regulation, as well as efforts to identify putative ligands.

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Sisi Liu, Emmanouil Saloustros, Annabel Berthon, Matthew F Starost, Isabelle Sahut-Barnola, Paraskevi Salpea, Eva Szarek, Fabio R Faucz, Antoine Martinez, and Constantine A Stratakis

Primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD), whether in the context of Carney complex (CNC) or isolated, leads to ACTH-independent Cushing's syndrome (CS). CNC and PPNAD are caused typically by inactivating mutations of PRKAR1A, a gene coding for the type 1a regulatory subunit (R1α) of cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA). Mice lacking Prkar1a, specifically in the adrenal cortex (AdKO) developed CS caused by bilateral adrenal hyperplasia (BAH), which is formed from the abnormal proliferation of fetal-like adrenocortical cells. Celecoxib is a cyclooxygenase 2 (COX2) inhibitor. In bone, Prkar1a inhibition is associated with COX2 activation and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) production that, in turn, activates proliferation of bone stromal cells. We hypothesized that COX2 inhibition may have an effect in PPNAD. In vitro treatment of human cell lines, including one from a patient with PPNAD, with celecoxib resulted in decreased cell viability. We then treated AdKO and control mice with 1500 mg/kg celecoxib or vehicle. Celecoxib treatment led to decreased PGE2 and corticosterone levels, reduced proliferation and increased apoptosis of adrenocortical cells, and decreased steroidogenic gene expression. We conclude that, in vitro and in vivo, celecoxib led to decreased steroidogenesis. In a mouse model of PPNAD, celecoxib caused histological changes that, at least in part, reversed BAH and this was associated with a reduction of corticosterone levels.

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Emmanouil Saloustros, Paraskevi Salpea, Matthew Starost, Sissi Liu, Fabio R Faucz, Edra London, Eva Szarek, Woo-Jin Song, Mehboob Hussain, and Constantine A Stratakis

Carney complex (CNC) is a rare disease associated with multiple neoplasias, including a predisposition to pancreatic tumors; it is caused most frequently by the inactivation of the PRKAR1A gene, a regulator of the cyclic AMP (cAMP)-dependent kinase (PKA). The method used was to create null alleles of prkar1a in mouse cells expressing pdx1 (Δ-Prkar1a). We found that these mice developed endocrine or mixed endocrine/acinar cell carcinomas with 100% penetrance by the age of 4–5 months. Malignant behavior of the tumors was seen as evidenced by stromal invasion and metastasis to locoregional lymph nodes. Histologically, most tumors exhibited an organoid pattern as seen in the islet-cell tumors. Biochemically, the lesions exhibited high PKA activity, as one would expect from deleting prkar1a. The primary neuroendocrine nature of these tumor cells was confirmed by immunohistochemical staining and electron microscopy, the latter revealing the characteristic granules. Although the Δ-Prkar1a mice developed hypoglycemia after overnight fasting, insulin and glucagon levels in the plasma were normal. Negative immunohistochemical staining for the most commonly produced peptides (insulin, c-peptide, glucagon, gastrin and somatostatin) suggested that these tumors were non-functioning. We hypothesize that the recently identified multipotent pdx1+/insulin− cell in adult pancreas, gives rise to endocrine or mixed endocrine/acinar pancreatic malignancies with complete prkar1a deficiency. In conclusion, this mouse model supports the role of prkar1a as a tumor suppressor gene in the pancreas and points to the PKA pathway as a possible therapeutic target for these lesions.

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Rodrigo B de Alexandre, Anelia D Horvath, Eva Szarek, Allison D Manning, Leticia F Leal, Fabio Kardauke, Jonathan A Epstein, Dirce M Carraro, Fernando A Soares, Tatiyana V Apanasovich, Constantine A Stratakis, and Fabio R Faucz

We hypothesized that mutations that inactivate phosphodiesterase (PDE) activity and lead to increased cAMP and cyclic guanosine monophosphate levels may be associated with prostate cancer (PCa). We sequenced the entire PDE coding sequences in the DNA of 16 biopsy samples from PCa patients. Novel mutations were confirmed in the somatic or germline state by Sanger sequencing. Data were then compared to the 1000 Genome Project. PDE, CREB and pCREB protein expression was also studied in all samples, in both normal and abnormal tissue, by immunofluorescence. We identified three previously described PDE sequence variants that were significantly more frequent in PCa. Four novel sequence variations, one each in the PDE4B, PDE6C, PDE7B and PDE10A genes, respectively, were also found in the PCa samples. Interestingly, PDE10A and PDE4B novel variants that were present in 19 and 6% of the patients were found in the tumor tissue only. In patients carrying PDE defects, there was pCREB accumulation (P<0.001), and an increase of the pCREB:CREB ratio (patients 0.97±0.03; controls 0.52±0.03; P-value <0.001) by immunohistochemical analysis. We conclude that PDE sequence variants may play a role in the predisposition and/or progression to PCa at the germline and/or somatic state respectively.

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Anand Pathak, Douglas R Stewart, Fabio R Faucz, Paraskevi Xekouki, Sara Bass, Aurelie Vogt, Xijun Zhang, Joseph Boland, Meredith Yeager, Jennifer T Loud, Katherine L Nathanson, Katherine A McGlynn, Constantine A Stratakis, Mark H Greene, and Lisa Mirabello

Germline inactivating mutations of isoform 4 of phosphodiesterase (PDE) 11A (coded by the PDE11A gene) have been associated with familial adrenocortical tumors and familial testicular cancer. Testicular tissue is unique in expressing all four isoforms of PDE11A. In a prior candidate gene study of 94 familial testicular germ cell tumor (TGCT) subjects, we identified a significant association between the presence of functionally abnormal variants in PDE11A and familial TGCT risk. To validate this novel observation, we sequenced the PDE11A coding region in 259 additional TGCT patients (both familial and sporadic) and 363 controls. We identified 55 PDE11A variants: 20 missense, four splice-site, two nonsense, seven synonymous, and 22 intronic. Ten missense variants were novel; nine occurred in transcript variant 4 and one in transcript variant 3. Five rare mutations (p.F258Y, p.G291R, p.V820M, p.R545X, and p.K568R) were present only in cases and were significantly more common in cases vs controls (P=0.0037). The latter two novel variants were functionally characterized and shown to be functionally inactivating, resulting in reduced PDE activity and increased cAMP levels. In further analysis of this cohort, we focused on white participants only to minimize confounding due to population stratification. This study builds upon our prior reports implicating PDE11A variants in familial TGCT, provides the first independent validation of those findings, extends that work to sporadic testicular cancer, demonstrates that these variants are uncommonly but reproducibly associated with TGCT, and refines our understanding regarding which specific inactivating PDE11A variants are most likely to be associated with TGCT risk.

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Eva Szarek, Evan R Ball, Alessio Imperiale, Maria Tsokos, Fabio R Faucz, Alessio Giubellino, François-Marie Moussallieh, Izzie-Jacques Namer, Mones S Abu-Asab, Karel Pacak, David Taïeb, J Aidan Carney, and Constantine A Stratakis

Carney triad (CTr) describes the association of paragangliomas (PGL), pulmonary chondromas, and gastrointestinal (GI) stromal tumors (GISTs) with a variety of other lesions, including pheochromocytomas and adrenocortical tumors. The gene(s) that cause CTr remain(s) unknown. PGL and GISTs may be caused by loss-of-function mutations in succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) (a condition known as Carney–Stratakis syndrome (CSS)). Mitochondrial structure and function are abnormal in tissues that carry SDH defects, but they have not been studied in CTr. For the present study, we examined mitochondrial structure in human tumors and GI tissue (GIT) of mice with SDH deficiency. Tissues from 16 CTr tumors (n=12), those with isolated GIST (n=1), and those with CSS caused by SDHC (n=1) and SDHD (n=2) mutations were studied by electron microscopy (EM). Samples of GIT from mice with a heterozygous deletion in Sdhb (Sdhb + /−, n=4) were also studied by EM. CTr patients presented with mostly epithelioid GISTs that were characterized by plump cells containing a centrally located, round nucleus and prominent nucleoli; these changes were almost identical to those seen in the GISTs of patients with SDH. In tumor cells from patients, regardless of diagnosis or tumor type, cytoplasm contained an increased number of mitochondria with a ‘hypoxic’ phenotype: mitochondria were devoid of cristae, exhibited structural abnormalities, and were of variable size. Occasionally, mitochondria were small and round; rarely, they were thin and elongated with tubular cristae. Many mitochondria exhibited amorphous fluffy material with membranous whorls or cystic structures. A similar mitochondrial hypoxic phenotype was seen in Sdhb + /− mice. We concluded that tissues from SDH-deficient tumors, those from mouse GIT, and those from CTr tumors shared identical abnormalities in mitochondrial structure and other features. Thus, the still-elusive CTr defect(s) is(are) likely to affect mitochondrial function, just like germline SDH-deficiency does.

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Giampaolo Trivellin, Ricardo R Correa, Maria Batsis, Fabio R Faucz, Prashant Chittiboina, Ivana Bjelobaba, Darwin O Larco, Martha Quezado, Adrian F Daly, Stanko S Stojilkovic, T John Wu, Albert Beckers, Maya B Lodish, and Constantine A Stratakis

Cushing’s disease (CD) in children is caused by adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting pituitary adenomas. Germline or somatic mutations in genes such as MEN1, CDKIs, AIP, and USP8 have been identified in pediatric CD, but the genetic defects in a significant percentage of cases are still unknown. In this study, we investigated the orphan G-protein-coupled receptor GPR101, a gene known to be involved in somatotropinomas, for its possible involvement in corticotropinomas. We performed GPR101 sequencing, expression analyses by RT-qPCR and immunostaining, and functional studies (cell proliferation, pituitary hormone secretion, and cAMP measurement) in a series of patients with sporadic CD secondary to ACTH-secreting adenomas in whom we extracted DNA from peripheral blood and pituitary tumor samples (n=36). No increased GPR101 expression was observed in tumors compared with normal pituitary (NP) tissues, nor did we find a correlation between GPR101 and ACTH expression levels. Sequence analysis revealed a very rare germline heterozygous GPR101 variant (p.G31S) in one patient with CD. Overexpression of the p.G31S variant did not lead to increased growth and proliferation, although modest effects on cAMP signaling were observed. GPR101 is not overexpressed in ACTH-secreting tumors compared with NPs. In conclusion, rare germline GPR101 variant was found in one patient with CD, but in vitro studies did not support a consistent pathogenic effect. GPR101 is unlikely to be involved in the pathogenesis of CD.

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Stéphanie Espiard, Ludivine Drougat, Nikolaos Settas, Sara Haydar, Kerstin Bathon, Edra London, Isaac Levy, Fabio R Faucz, Davide Calebiro, Jerome Bertherat, Dong Li, Michael A. Levine, and Constantine A Stratakis

Genetic variants in components of the protein kinase A (PKA) enzyme have been associated with various defects and neoplasms in the context of Carney complex (CNC) and in isolated cases, such as in primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD), cortisol-producing adrenal adenomas (CPAs), and various cancers. PRKAR1A mutations have been found in subjects with impaired cAMP-dependent signaling and skeletal defects; bone tumors also develop in both humans and mice with Prkar1a abnormalities. We studied the PRKACB gene in 148 subjects with PPNAD and related disorders, who did not have other PKA-related defects and identified two subjects with possibly pathogenic PRKACB gene variants and unusual bone and endocrine phenotypes. The first presented with bone and other abnormalities, and carried a de novo c.858_860GAA (p.K286del) variant. The second subject carried the c.899 C>T (p.T300M) variant and had a PPNAD-like phenotype. Both variants are highly conserved in the PRKACB gene. In functional studies, the p.K286del variant affected PRKACB protein stability and led to increased PKA signaling. The p.T300M variant did not affect protein stability or response to cAMP and its pathogenicity remains uncertain. We conclude that PRKACB germline variants are uncommon but may be associated with phenotypes that resemble those of other PKA-related defects. However, detailed investigation of each variant is needed as PRKACB appears to be only rarely affected in these conditions, and variants such as p.T300M maybe proven to be clinically insignificant, whereas others (such as p.K286del) are clearly pathogenic and may lead to a novel skeletal syndrome phenotype.

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Andrea Gutierrez Maria, Christina Tatsi, Annabel Berthon, Ludivine Drougat, Nikolaos Settas, Fady Hannah-Shmouni, Jerome Bertherat, Fabio R Faucz, and Constantine A Stratakis

Mutations in the protein kinase A (PKA) regulatory subunit type 1A (PRKAR1A) and armadillo repeat-containing 5 (ARMC5) genes cause Cushing‘s syndrome (CS) due to primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD) and primary bilateral macronodular adrenocortical hyperplasia (PBMAH), respectively. Between the two genes, ARMC5 is highly polymorphic with several variants in the population, whereas PRKAR1A has very little, if any, non-pathogenic variation in its coding sequence. We tested the hypothesis that ARMC5 variants may affect the clinical presentation of PPNAD and CS among patients with PRKAR1A mutations. In this study, 91 patients with PPNAD due to PRKAR1A mutations were tested for abnormal cortisol secretion or CS and for ARMC5 sequence variants. Abnormal cortisol secretion was present in 71 of 74 patients with ARMC5 variants, whereas 11 of 17 patients negative for ARMC5 variants did not have hypercortisolemia. The presence of ARMC5 variants was a statistically strong predictor of CS among patients with PRKAR1A mutations (P < 0.001). Among patients with CS due to PPNAD, ARMC5 variants were associated with lower cortisol levels at baseline (P = 0.04) and after high dose dexamethasone administration (P = 0.02). The ARMC5 p.I170V variant increased ARMC5 protein accumulation in vitro and decreased viability of NCI-H295 cells (but not HEK 293T cells). PPNAD tissues with ARMC5 variants showed stronger ARMC5 protein expression than those that carried a normal ARMC5 sequence. Taken together, our results suggest that ARMC5 variants among patients with PPNAD due to PRKAR1A defects may play the role of a genetic modifier for the presence and severity of hypercortisolemia.