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Fidéline Bonnet-Serrano and Jérôme Bertherat

This review describes the molecular alterations observed in the various types of tumors of the adrenal cortex, excluding Conn adenomas, especially the alterations identified by genomic approaches these last five years. Two main forms of bilateral adrenocortical tumors can be distinguished according to size and aspect of the nodules: primary pigmented nodular adrenal disease (PPNAD), which can be sporadic or part of Carney complex and primary bilateral macro nodular adrenal hyperplasia (PBMAH). The bilateral nature of the tumors suggests the existence of an underlying genetic predisposition. PPNAD and Carney complex are mainly due to germline-inactivating mutations of PRKAR1A, coding for a regulatory subunit of PKA, whereas PBMAH genetic seems more complex. However, genome-wide approaches allowed the identification of a new tumor suppressor gene, ARMC5, whose germline alteration could be responsible for at least 25% of PBMAH cases. Unilateral adrenocortical tumors are more frequent, mostly adenomas. The Wnt/beta-catenin pathway can be activated in both benign and malignant tumors by CTNNB1 mutations and by ZNRF3 inactivation in adrenal cancer (ACC). Some other signaling pathways are more specific of the tumor dignity. Thus, somatic mutations of cAMP/PKA pathway genes, mainly PRKACA, coding for the catalytic alpha-subunit of PKA, are found in cortisol-secreting adenomas, whereas IGF-II overexpression and alterations of p53 signaling pathway are observed in ACC. Genome-wide approaches including transcriptome, SNP, methylome and miRome analysis have identified new genetic and epigenetic alterations and the further clustering of ACC in subgroups associated with different prognosis, allowing the development of new prognosis markers.

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Bruno Ragazzon, Guillaume Assié and Jérôme Bertherat

Transcriptome analysis has been successfully used to study the gene profile expression of adrenocortical tumors (ACT) for 7 years. The various studies reported to date have produced an abundance of new information on adrenocortical cancer (ACC), underlying the validity of this approach to study the molecular genetics and pathogenesis of these tumors. The gene expression profile of ACC clearly differs from that of benign adrenocortical adenomas (ACA). Interestingly, transcriptome analysis has the ability to establish a subclassification of ACC based on the gene expression profile. In particular, it is able to identify two groups of tumors with different outcomes (i.e. good prognosis and poor prognosis). This approach has been used to develop molecular markers for ACC diagnosis and prognostication. An IGF2 cluster of genes up-regulated in ACC has been identified. Transcriptome analysis has shown that, in comparison with ACA, IGF2 is indeed the gene most overexpressed in ACC. By contrast, genes associated with steroidogenesis are down-regulated in ACC. Genes controlling the cell cycle are dysregulated in ACC, and several are dramatically overexpressed. Analysis regarding the level of expression of Wnt/β-catenin and p53 signaling has shown alterations, in keeping with the known molecular somatic genetic defects of these pathways that are observed in ACC. This review summarizes the main findings of studies reporting ACC transcriptome analysis, demonstrating its power for ACT classification, and examines the resulting progress in understanding the pathogenesis of ACC. The potential for both ACC diagnosis and the identification of new therapeutic targets will be discussed.

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Rossella Libè, Amato Fratticci and Jérôme Bertherat

Adrenocortical cancer (ACC) is a rare tumor with a poor prognosis. By contrast, benign adrenocortical tumors are frequent, underlying the importance of a correct diagnosis of malignancy of such tumors. ACC can be diagnosed by the investigation of endocrine signs of steroid excess, symptoms due to tumor growth or an adrenal incidentaloma. Hormonal investigations demonstrate in most ACC steroid oversecretion, the dominant characteristics being a co-secretion of cortisol and androgens. Imaging by CT-scan or MRI shows a large heterogeneous tumor with a low fat content. Careful pathological investigation with the assessment of the Weiss score is important for the diagnosis of malignancy. Molecular markers can also be helpful and in the future might be important for prognosis. Tumors localized to the adrenal gland (McFarlane stages 1 and 2) have a better outcome than invasive and metastatic tumors (stages 3 and 4). Tumor removal by a specialized team is crucial for treatment and should always aim at complete removal. In patients with metastatic or progressive disease, medical treatment is started with mitotane that requires a close monitoring of its blood level. Surgery is indicated when possible for local recurrence but also in some cases of metastasis. Local treatment (radiofrequency, chemoembolization, and radiation therapy) can have some indications for metastatic disease. In patients with disease progression cytotoxic chemotherapy can be used. Despite the best care, the overall prognosis of ACC is poor with a 5-year survival rate below 30% in most series. Therefore, progress in the understanding of the pathophysiology of ACC is important. Despite the rarity of ACC, significant advances have been made in the understanding of its pathogenesis the last decade. These progresses came mainly from the study of the genetics of ACC, both at the germline level in rare familial diseases, and at the somatic level by the study of molecular alterations in sporadic tumors. These advances underline the importance of genetic alterations in ACC development and point-out to various chromosomal regions (2, 11p15, 11q, 17p13) and genes (IGF-II, p53, β-catenin, ACTH receptor). This review will summarize these advances as well as the current clinical management of ACC.

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William D Foulkes, Jérôme Bertherat and Charis Eng

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Patricia de Cremoux, Dan Rosenberg, Jacques Goussard, Catherine Brémont-Weil, Frédérique Tissier, Carine Tran-Perennou, Lionnel Groussin, Xavier Bertagna, Jérôme Bertherat and Marie-Laure Raffin-Sanson

Adrenal tumors occur more frequently in women and are the leading cause of Cushing's syndrome during pregnancy. We aimed to evaluate the potential role of sex steroids in the susceptibility of women to adrenocortical tumors. We evaluated the presence of the progesterone receptor (PR), estradiol receptors (ERs), and aromatase in 5 patients with primary pigmented nodular adrenal disease (PPNAD), 15 adrenocortical adenomas (ACAs) and adjacent normal tissues, 12 adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs), and 3 normal adrenal glands (NA). The expression of PR and ERα was evaluated by enzyme immunoassays, real-time RT-PCR, immunohistochemistry, and cytosol-based ligand-binding assays. ERβ and aromatase levels were evaluated by real-time RT-PCR. ERα concentrations were low in NA, in adrenal tissues adjacent to ACA (51±33), in ACC (53±78), and lower in ACA (11±11 fmol/mg DNA). Conversely, PR concentrations were high in NA and adrenal tissues adjacent to ACA, at 307±216 fmol/mg DNA, and were even higher in tumors – 726±706 fmol/mg DNA in ACA and 1154±1586 fmol/mg DNA in ACC – and in isolated PPNAD nodules. Binding study results in four tumors were compatible with binding to a steroid receptor. In patients with PPNAD, a strong positive immunohistochemical signal was associated with the sole isolated nodular regions. ERβ transcript levels were very high in all samples except those for two ACCs, whereas aromatase levels were low. PR and ERβ are clearly present in normal adrenal glands and adrenal tumors. Further studies may shed light on the possible pathogenic role of these receptors in adrenal proliferation.

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Simon Garinet, Juliette Nectoux, Mario Neou, Eric Pasmant, Anne Jouinot, Mathilde Sibony, Lucie Orhant, Juliana Pipoli da Fonseca, Karine Perlemoine, Léopoldine Bricaire, Lionel Groussin, Olivier Soubrane, Bertrand Dousset, Rossella Libe, Franck Letourneur, Jérome Bertherat and Guillaume Assié

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Johann Guillemot, Patricia Compagnon, Dorthe Cartier, Erwan Thouennon, Christian Bastard, Isabelle Lihrmann, Perrine Pichon, Christian Thuillez, Pierre-François Plouin, Jérôme Bertherat, Youssef Anouar, Jean-Marc Kuhn, Laurent Yon and Hervé Lefebvre

The gastroprokinetic agent metoclopramide is known to stimulate catecholamine secretion from pheochromocytomas. The aim of the study was to investigate the mechanism of action of metoclopramide and expression of serotonin type 4 (5-HT4) receptors in pheochromocytoma tissues. Tissue explants, obtained from 18 pheochromocytomas including the tumor removed from a 46-year-old female patient who experienced life-threatening hypertension crisis after metoclopramide administration and 17 additional pheochromocytomas (9 benign and 8 malignant) were studied. Cultured pheochromocytoma cells derived from the patient who previously received metoclopramide were incubated with metoclopramide and various 5-HT4 receptor ligands. In addition, total mRNAs were extracted from all the 18 tumors. Catecholamine- and granin-derived peptide concentrations were measured in pheochromocytoma cell incubation medium by HPLC and radioimmunological assays. In addition, expression of 5-HT4 receptor mRNAs in the 18 pheochromocytomas was investigated by the use of reverse transcriptase-PCR. Results: Metoclopramide and the 5-HT4 receptor agonist cisapride were found to activate catecholamine- and granin-derived peptide secretions by cultured tumor cells. Metoclopramide- and cisapride-evoked catecholamine- and granin-derived peptide productions were inhibited by the 5-HT4 receptor antagonist GR 113808. 5-HT4 receptor mRNAs were detected in the patient's tumor and the series of 17 additional pheochromocytomas. This study shows that pheochromocytomas express functional 5-HT4 receptors that are responsible for the stimulatory action of metoclopramide on catecholamine- and granin-derived peptide secretion. All 5-HT4 receptor agonists must therefore be contraindicated in patients with proven or suspected pheochromocytoma.

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Erwan Thouënnon, Alice Pierre, Yannick Tanguy, Johann Guillemot, Destiny-Love Manecka, Marlène Guérin, L'houcine Ouafik, Mihaela Muresan, Marc Klein, Jérôme Bertherat, Hervé Lefebvre, Pierre-François Plouin, Laurent Yon and Youssef Anouar

Pheochromocytomas are catecholamine-producing tumors which are generally benign, but which can also present as or develop into malignancy. Molecular pathways of malignant transformation remain poorly understood. Pheochromocytomas express various trophic peptides which may influence tumoral cell behavior. Here, we investigated the expression of trophic amidated peptides, including pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP), neuropeptide Y (NPY), and adrenomedullin (AM), and their receptors in benign and malignant pheochromocytomas in order to assess their potential role in chromaffin cell tumorigenesis and malignant transformation. PACAP, NPY, and AM are expressed in the majority of pheochromocytomas studied; NPY exhibiting the highest mRNA levels relative to reference genes. Although median gene expression or peptide levels were systematically lower in malignant compared to benign tumors, no statistically significant difference was found. Among all the receptors of these peptides that were analyzed, only the AM receptor RDC1 displayed a differential expression between benign and malignant pheochromocytomas. This receptor exhibited a fourfold higher expression in malignant than in benign tumors. AM and stromal cell-derived factor 1, which has also been described as a ligand for RDC1, increased the number of human pheochromocytoma cells in primary culture and exerted anti-apoptotic activity on rat pheochromocytoma PC12 cells. In addition, RDC1 gene silencing decreased the number of viable PC12 cells. This study shows the expression of several trophic peptides and their receptors in benign and malignant pheochromocytomas, and suggests that AM and its RDC1 receptor could be involved in chromaffin cell tumorigenesis through pro-survival effects. Therefore, AM and RDC1 may represent valuable targets for the treatment of malignant pheochromocytomas.

Open access

Laura C Hernández-Ramírez, Ryhem Gam, Nuria Valdés, Maya B Lodish, Nathan Pankratz, Aurelio Balsalobre, Yves Gauthier, Fabio R Faucz, Giampaolo Trivellin, Prashant Chittiboina, John Lane, Denise M Kay, Aggeliki Dimopoulos, Stephan Gaillard, Mario Neou, Jérôme Bertherat, Guillaume Assié, Chiara Villa, James L Mills, Jacques Drouin and Constantine A Stratakis

The CABLES1 cell cycle regulator participates in the adrenal–pituitary negative feedback, and its expression is reduced in corticotropinomas, pituitary tumors with a largely unexplained genetic basis. We investigated the presence of CABLES1 mutations/copy number variations (CNVs) and their associated clinical, histopathological and molecular features in patients with Cushing’s disease (CD). Samples from 146 pediatric (118 germline DNA only/28 germline and tumor DNA) and 35 adult (tumor DNA) CD patients were screened for CABLES1 mutations. CNVs were assessed in 116 pediatric CD patients (87 germline DNA only/29 germline and tumor DNA). Four potentially pathogenic missense variants in CABLES1 were identified, two in young adults (c.532G > A, p.E178K and c.718C > T, p.L240F) and two in children (c.935G > A, p.G312D and c.1388A > G, and p.D463G) with CD; no CNVs were found. The four variants affected residues within or close to the predicted cyclin-dependent kinase-3 (CDK3)-binding region of the CABLES1 protein and impaired its ability to block cell growth in a mouse corticotropinoma cell line (AtT20/D16v-F2). The four patients had macroadenomas. We provide evidence for a role of CABLES1 as a novel pituitary tumor-predisposing gene. Its function might link two of the main molecular mechanisms altered in corticotropinomas: the cyclin-dependent kinase/cyclin group of cell cycle regulators and the epidermal growth factor receptor signaling pathway. Further studies are needed to assess the prevalence of CABLES1 mutations among patients with other types of pituitary adenomas and to elucidate the pituitary-specific functions of this gene.

Free access

Florian Haller, Evgeny A Moskalev, Fabio R Faucz, Sarah Barthelmeß, Stefan Wiemann, Matthias Bieg, Guillaume Assie, Jerome Bertherat, Inga-Marie Schaefer, Claudia Otto, Eleanor Rattenberry, Eamonn R Maher, Philipp Ströbel, Martin Werner, J Aidan Carney, Arndt Hartmann, Constantine A Stratakis and Abbas Agaimy

Carney triad (CT) is a rare condition with synchronous or metachronous occurrence of gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs), paragangliomas (PGLs), and pulmonary chondromas in a patient. In contrast to Carney–Stratakis syndrome (CSS) and familial PGL syndromes, no germline or somatic mutations in the succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) complex subunits A, B, C, or D have been found in most tumors and/or patients with CT. Nonetheless, the tumors arising among patients with CT, CSS, or familial PGL share a similar morphology with loss of the SDHB subunit on the protein level. For the current study, we employed massive parallel bisulfite sequencing to evaluate DNA methylation patterns in CpG islands in proximity to the gene loci of all four SDH subunits. For the first time, we report on a recurrent aberrant dense DNA methylation at the gene locus of SDHC in tumors of patients with CT, which was not present in tumors of patients with CSS or PGL, or in sporadic GISTs with KIT mutations. This DNA methylation pattern was correlated to a reduced mRNA expression of SDHC, and concurrent loss of the SDHC subunit on the protein level. Collectively, these data suggest epigenetic inactivation of the SDHC gene locus with functional impairment of the SDH complex as a plausible alternate mechanism of tumorigenesis in CT.