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Hans K Ghayee, Bas Havekes, Eleonora P M Corssmit, Graeme Eisenhofer, Stephen R Hammes, Zahid Ahmad, Alexander Tessnow, Ivica Lazúrová, Karen T Adams, Antonio T Fojo, Karel Pacak, and Richard J Auchus

Extra-adrenal pheochromocytomas, otherwise known as paragangliomas (PGLs), account for about 20% of catecholamine-producing tumors. Catecholamine excess and mutations in the genes encoding succinate dehydrogenase subunits (SDHx) are frequently found in patients with PGLs. Only 2% of PGLs are found in the mediastinum, and little is known about genetic alterations in patients with mediastinal PGLs, catecholamine production by these tumors, or their clinical behavior. We hypothesized that most mediastinal PGLs are associated with germ line SDHx mutations, norepinephrine and/or dopamine excess, and aggressive behavior. The objective of this study was to characterize genetic, biochemical, and clinical data in a series of ten patients with mediastinal PGLs. All ten primary mediastinal PGL patients had germ line SDHx mutations, six in SDHB, and four in SDHD genes. Chest or back pain were the most common presenting symptoms (five patients), and catecholamines and/or their metabolites were elevated in seven patients. Additional tumors included head and neck PGLs in four patients, pheochromocytoma in one patient, and bladder PGL in another. Metastatic disease was documented in six patients (60%), and a concurrent abdominal mass was found in one patient. We conclude that mediastinal PGLs are strongly associated with SDHB and SDHD gene mutations, noradrenergic phenotype, and aggressive behavior. The present data suggest that all patients with mediastinal PGLs should be screened for SDHx gene mutations, regardless of age.

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Nicole Bechmann, Mats Leif Moskopp, Martin Ullrich, Bruna Calsina, Pål William Wallace, Susan Richter, Markus Friedemann, Katharina Langton, Stephanie M J Fliedner, Henri J L M Timmers, Svenja Nölting, Felix Beuschlein, Martin Fassnacht, Aleksander Prejbisz, Karel Pacak, Hans K Ghayee, Stefan R Bornstein, Peter Dieterich, Jens Pietzsch, Ben Wielockx, Mercedes Robledo, Nan Qin, and Graeme Eisenhofer

Mutations that drive the stabilization of hypoxia inducible factor 2α (HIF2α) and downstream pseudohypoxic signaling are known to predispose to the development of pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGLs). However, any role of HIF2α in predisposition to metastatic disease remains unclear. To assess such a role we combined gene-manipulations in pheochromocytoma cell lines with retrospective analyses of patient data and gene expression profiling in tumor specimens. Among 425 patients with PPGLs identified with mutations in tumor-susceptibility genes, those with tumors due to activation of pseudohypoxic pathways had a higher frequency of metastatic disease than those with tumors due to activation of kinase-signaling pathways, even without inclusion of patients with mutations in SDHB (18.6% vs 4.3% in, P < 0.0001). Three out of nine (33%) patients with gain-of-function mutations in HIF2α had metastatic disease. In cell line studies, elevated expression of HIF2α enhanced cell proliferation and led to increased migration and invasion capacity. Moreover, HIF2α expression in HIF2α-deficient cells resulted in increased cell motility, diffuse cluster formation and emergence of pseudopodia indicating changes in cell adhesion and cytoskeletal remodeling. In a mouse liver metastasis model, Hif2a enhanced the metastatic load. Transcriptomics data revealed alterations in focal adhesion and extracellular matrix–receptor interactions in HIF2α-mutated PPGLs. Our translational findings demonstrate that HIF2α supports pro-metastatic behavior in PPGLs, though other factors remain critical for subsequent transition to metastasis. We identified LAMB1 and COL4A2 as new potential therapeutic targets for HIF2α-driven PPGLs. Identified HIF2α downstream targets might open a new therapeutic window for aggressive HIF2α-expressing tumors.