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Alessia Di Florio, Gabriele Capurso, Massimo Milione, Francesco Panzuto, Raffaele Geremia, Gianfranco Delle Fave and Claudio Sette

Pancreatic endocrine tumours (PETs) are rare and ‘indolent’ neoplasms that usually develop metastatic lesions and exhibit poor response to standard medical treatments. Few studies have investigated pathways responsible for PET cell growth and invasion and no alternative therapeutic strategies have been proposed. In a recent microarray analysis for genes up-regulated in PETs, we have described the up-regulation of soluble Src family tyrosine kinases in this neoplasia, which may represent potentially promising candidates for therapy. Herein, we have investigated the expression and function of Src family kinases in PETS and PET cell lines. Western blot analysis indicated that Src is highly abundant in the PET cell lines CM and QGP-1. Immunohistochemistry and Western blot analyses showed that Src is up-regulated also in human PET lesions. Pharmacological inhibition of Src family kinases by the specific inhibitor PP2 strongly interfered with adhesion, spreading and migration of PET cell lines. Accordingly, the actin cytoskeleton was profoundly altered after inhibition of Src kinases, whereas even prolonged incubation with PP2 exerted no effect on cell cycle progression and/or apoptosis of PET cells. A transient increase in tyrosine phosphorylation of a subset of proteins was observed in QGP-1 cells adhering to the plate, with a peak at 75 min after seeding, when approximately 80% of cells were attached. Inhibition of Src kinases caused a dramatic reduction in the phosphorylation of proteins with different molecular weight that were isolated from the cell extracts by anti-phosphotyrosine immunoprecipitation or pull-down with the SH2 domain of Src. Among them, the docking protein p130Cas interacted with Src and is a major substrate of the Src kinases in QGP-1 cells undergoing adhesion. Our results suggest that Src kinases play a specific role during adhesion, spreading and migration of PET cells and may indicate therapeutical approaches directed to limiting the metastatic potential of these cells.

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Alessia Di Florio, Laura Adesso, Simona Pedrotti, Gabriele Capurso, Emanuela Pilozzi, Vincenzo Corbo, Aldo Scarpa, Raffaele Geremia, Gianfranco Delle Fave and Claudio Sette

Pancreatic endocrine tumours (PETs) are rare and heterogeneous neoplasms, often diagnosed at metastatic stage, for which no cure is currently available. Recently, activation of two pathways that support proliferation and invasiveness of cancer cells, the Src family kinase (SFK) and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathways, was demonstrated in PETs. Since both pathways represent suitable targets for therapeutic intervention, we investigated their possible interaction in PETs. Western blot and immunofluorescence analyses indicated that SFK and mTOR activity correlate in PET cell lines. We also found that SFKs coordinate cell adhesion and spreading with activation of the mTOR pathway in PET cells. Live cell metabolic labelling and biochemical studies demonstrated that SFK activity enhance mTOR-dependent translation initiation. Furthermore, microarray analysis of the mRNAs associated with polyribosomes revealed that SFKs regulate mTOR-dependent translation of specific transcripts, with an enrichment in mRNAs encoding cell cycle proteins. Importantly, a synergic inhibition of proliferation was observed in PET cells concomitantly treated with SFK and mTOR inhibitors, without activation of the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase/AKT pro-survival pathway. Tissue microarray analysis revealed activation of Src and mTOR in some PET samples, and identified phosphorylation of 4E-BP1 as an independent marker of poor prognosis in PETs. Thus, our work highlights a novel link between the SFK and mTOR pathways, which regulate the translation of mRNAs for cell cycle regulators, and suggest that crosstalk between these pathways promotes PET cell proliferation.

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Roberto Valente, Alastair J Hayes, Sven-Petter Haugvik, Per Hedenström, Darko Siuka, Emilie Korsæth, Daniel Kämmerer, Stuart M Robinson, Patrick Maisonneuve, Gianfranco Delle Fave, Bjorn Lindkvist and Gabriele Capurso

Pancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms (PNENs) represent 10% of all pancreatic tumors by prevalence. Their incidence has reportedly increased over recent decades in parallel with that of pancreatic adenocarcinoma. PNENs are relatively rare, and of the few institutions that have published potential risk factors, findings have been heterogeneous. Our objective was to investigate the association between potential risk and protective factors for the occurrence of sporadic PNENs across a European population from several institutions. A multinational European case–control study was conducted to examine the association of selected environmental, family and medical exposure factors using a standardized questionnaire in face-to-face interviews. A ratio of 1:3 cases to controls were sex and age matched at each study site. Adjusted univariate and multivariate logistic regression analysis were performed for statistically significant factors. The following results were obtained: In 201 cases and 603 controls, non-recent onset diabetes (OR 2.09, CI 1.27–3.46) was associated with an increased occurrence of PNENs. The prevalence of non-recent onset diabetes was higher both in cases with metastatic disease (TNM stage III–IV) or advanced grade (G3) at the time of diagnosis. The use of metformin in combination with insulin was also associated with a more aggressive phenotype. Drinking coffee was more frequent in cases with localized disease at diagnosis. Our study concluded that non-recent onset diabetes was associated with an increased occurrence of PNENs and the combination of metformin and insulin was consistent with a more aggressive PNEN phenotype. In contrast to previous studies, smoking, alcohol and first-degree family history of cancer were not associated with PNEN occurrence.

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Silvia Pizzi, Cinzia Azzoni, Elisa Tamburini, Lorena Bottarelli, Nicoletta Campanini, Tiziana D'Adda, Giovanni Fellegara, Tu Vinh Luong, Claudio Pasquali, Giulio Rossi, Gianfranco Delle Fave, Roberta Camisa, Cesare Bordi and Guido Rindi

The role of Wnt pathway in digestive endocrine tumours is debated. The aim of this work is to investigate key players in Wnt pathway by a multimodal approach. Sixty cases (49 well-differentiated and 11 poorly differentiated) were investigated for methylation of adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) and E-cadherin promoters, the loss of heterozygosity (LOH) at APC locus and β -catenin and E-cadherin expression by immunohistochemistry. Tumours showing altered β-catenin localization were tested for β -catenin and APC mutations. APC promoter methylation was restricted to gastroduodenal tumours (21 out of 59, 36%), prevalent in poorly differentiated carcinomas (P=0.042) and correlating with aggressive features (high histology grade, P<0.02; tumour death, P=0.026; high fractional allelic loss, P=0.002, in turn correlating with short survival, P=0.017). LOH at APC locus was found in 14 out of 53 cases (26%, 10 gastroduodenal and 4 colorectal), prevalent in poorly differentiated carcinomas (P=0.002) and correlating with histology grade (P=0.012). β -catenin abnormal expression was found in 41 out of 54 cases (76%), with nuclear staining correlating with APC alteration (P=0.047) and short survival (P=0.006). APC, but not β -catenin, gene mutations were found (7 out of 35 tumours), 4 of which in the midgut. E-cadherin promoter methylation was rarely detected (2 out of 52 cases), with cytoplasmic expression in 18 out of 43 cases (42%), not correlating with any clinico-pathological feature. In conclusion, Wnt pathway alterations, as represented by abnormal β-catenin localization, are common events in digestive endocrine tumours, but only nuclear expression correlates with tumour aggressiveness. Though with different alteration mechanisms according to anatomical site, APC plays a major role in Wnt pathway activation and in determining the high chromosomal instability observed in aggressive endocrine carcinomas.

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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

Group-author : On behalf of the Italian CromaNet Working Group

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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Francesco Panzuto, Silvia Nasoni, Massimo Falconi, Vito Domenico Corleto, Gabriele Capurso, Sara Cassetta, Michela Di Fonzo, Valentina Tornatore, Massimo Milione, Stefano Angeletti, Maria Sofia Cattaruzza, Vincenzo Ziparo, Cesare Bordi, Paolo Pederzoli and Gianfranco Delle Fave

Since gastro-entero-pancreatic endocrine tumors are rare and heterogeneous diseases, their prognosis and long-term survival are not well known. This study aimed at identifying prognostic factors and assessing long-term survival in gastro-entero-pancreatic endocrine tumors. A total of 156 patients enrolled. Prognostic factors were determined by univariate/multivariate analysis; survival rates were assessed by the Kaplan–Meier method. The tumors were non-functioning in 59.6% of patients, and originated from the pancreas in 42.9%. At diagnosis, 64.3% of patients had metastases. The tumors were well differentiated in 89.6% of patients. Ki67 was >2% in 39.6% of patients. Primary tumor size was >3 cm in 49.6% of cases studied. For the univariate analysis, the negative prognostic factors were: pancreatic origin (rate ratio 4.64, P = 0.0002), poorly differentiated tumor (rate ratio 7.70, P = 0.0001), primary tumor size >3 cm (rate ratio 4.26, P = 0.0009), presence of distant metastases (liver: rate ratio 5.88, P = 0.01; distant extra-hepatic: rate ratio 13.41, P = 0.0008). The pancreatic site, the poor degree of differentiation and the distant metastases were confirmed as negative prognostic factors at multivariate analysis. Overall 5-year survival rate was 77.5%. Survival rates differed according to: primary tumor site (62% for pancreatic vs 89.9% for gastrointestinal tract, P = 0.0001) and size (65.7% for >3 cm vs 88.8% for ≤ 3 cm, P = 0.0003), degree of differentiation (22% for poor vs 86.8% for good, P<0.0001), Ki67 (53.5% for > 2% vs 90.1% for ≤ 2%, P = 0.003), metastases (96.1, 77, 73.3 and 50.1% for absent, local, liver and distant extra-hepatic metastases respectively), age at diagnosis (85.3% for ≤ 50 years vs 70.3% for > 50 years, P = 0.03). Although 64.3% of gastro-entero-pancreatic endocrine tumors present metastases at diagnosis, the 5-year survival rate is 77.5%. Pancreatic site, a poor degree of tumor cell differentiation and distant extra-hepatic metastases are the major negative prognostic factors.