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Ales Vicha, David Taieb and Karel Pacak

Warburg's metabolic hypothesis is based on the assumption that a cancer cell's respiration must be under attack, leading to its damage, in order to obtain increased glycolysis. Although this may not apply to all cancers, there is some evidence proving that primarily abnormally functioning mitochondrial complexes are indeed related to cancer development. Thus, mutations in complex II (succinate dehydrogenase (SDH)) lead to the formation of pheochromocytoma (PHEO)/paraganglioma (PGL). Mutations in one of the SDH genes (SDHx mutations) lead to succinate accumulation associated with very low fumarate levels, increased glutaminolysis, the generation of reactive oxygen species, and pseudohypoxia. This results in significant changes in signaling pathways (many of them dependent on the stabilization of hypoxia-inducible factor), including oxidative phosphorylation, glycolysis, specific expression profiles, as well as genomic instability and increased mutability resulting in tumor development. Although there is currently no very effective therapy for SDHx-related metastatic PHEOs/PGLs, targeting their fundamental metabolic abnormalities may provide a unique opportunity for the development of novel and more effective forms of therapy for these tumors.

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Frédéric Castinetti, Alexander Kroiss, Rakesh Kumar, Karel Pacak and David Taieb

Although anatomic imaging to assess the precise localization of pheochromocytomas/paragangliomas (PHEOs/PGLs) is unavoidable before any surgical intervention on these tumors, functional imaging is becoming an inseparable portion of the imaging algorithm for these tumors. This review article presents applications of the most up-to-date functional imaging modalities and image-based treatment to PHEOs/PGLs patients. Functional imaging techniques provide whole-body localization (number of tumors present along with metastatic deposits) together with genetic-specific imaging approaches to PHEOs/PGLs, thus enabling highly specific and sensitive PHEO/PGL detection and delineation that now greatly impact the management of patients. Radionuclide imaging techniques also play a crucial role in the prediction of possible radioactive treatment options for PHEO/PGL. In contrast to previous imaging algorithms used for either assessement of these patients or their follow-up, endocrinologists, surgeons, oncologists, pediatricians, and other specialists require functional imaging before any therapeutic plan is outlined to the patient, and follow-up, especially in patients with metastatic disease, is based on the periodic use of functional imaging, often reducing or substituting for anatomical imaging. In similar specific indications, this will be further powered by using PET/MR in the assessment of these tumors. In the near future, it is expected that PHEO/PGL patients will benefit even more from an assessement of the functional characteristics of these tumors and new imaging-based treatment options. Finally, due to the use of new targeting moieties, gene-targeted radiotherapeutics and nanobodies-based theranostic approaches are expected to become a reality in the near future.

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Ioannis Ilias, Anju Sahdev, Rodney H Reznek, Ashley B Grossman and Karel Pacak

Computed tomography (CT; unenhanced, followed by contrast-enhanced examinations) is the cornerstone of imaging of adrenal tumours. Attenuation values of <10 Hounsfield units on an unenhanced CT are practically diagnostic for adenomas. When lesions cannot be characterised adequately with CT, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) evaluation (with T1- and T2-weighted sequences and chemical shift and fat-suppression refinements) is sought. Functional nuclear medicine imaging is useful for adrenal lesions that are not adequately characterised with CT and MRI. Scintigraphy with [131I]-6-iodomethyl norcholesterol (a labelled cholesterol analogue) can differentiate adrenal cortical adenomas from carcinomas. Phaeochromocytomas appear as areas of abnormal and/or increased uptake of [123I]- and [131I]-meta-iodobenzylguanidine (a labelled noradrenaline analogue). The specific and useful roles of adrenal imaging include the characterisation of tumours, assessment of true tumour size, differentiation of adenomas from carcinomas and metastases, and differentiation of hyperfunctioning from non-functioning lesions. Adrenal imaging complements and assists the clinical and hormonal evaluation of adrenal tumours.

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Joakim Crona, Angela Lamarca, Suman Ghosal, Staffan Welin, Britt Skogseid and Karel Pacak

Pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma (PPGL) can be divided into at least four molecular subgroups. Whether such categorizations are independent factors for prognosis or metastatic disease is unknown. We performed a systematic review and individual patient meta-analysis aiming to estimate if driver mutation status can predict metastatic disease and survival. Driver mutations were used to categorize patients according to three different molecular systems: two subgroups (SDHB mutated or wild type), three subgroups (pseudohypoxia, kinase signaling or Wnt/unknown) and four subgroups (tricarboxylic acid cycle, VHL/EPAS1, kinase signaling or Wnt/unknown). Twenty-one studies and 703 patients were analyzed. Multivariate models for association with metastasis showed correlation with SDHB mutation (OR 5.68 (95% CI 1.79–18.06)) as well as norepinephrine (OR 3.01 (95% CI 1.02–8.79)) and dopamine (OR 6.39 (95% CI 1.62–25.24)) but not to PPGL location. Other molecular systems were not associated with metastasis. In multivariate models for association with survival, age (HR 1.04 (95% CI 1.02–1.06)) and metastases (HR 6.13 (95% CI 2.86–13.13)) but neither paraganglioma nor SDHB mutation remained significant. Other molecular subgroups did not correlate with survival. We conclude that molecular categorization accordingly to SDHB provided independent information on the risk of metastasis. Driver mutations status did not correlate independently with survival. These data may ultimately be used to guide current and future risk stratification of PPGL.

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Arthur Varoquaux, Electron Kebebew, Fréderic Sebag, Katherine Wolf, Jean-François Henry, Karel Pacak and David Taïeb

The vagus nerve (cranial nerve X) is the main nerve of the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system. Vagal paragangliomas (VPGLs) are a prime example of an endocrine tumor associated with the vagus nerve. This rare, neural crest tumor constitutes the second most common site of hereditary head and neck paragangliomas (HNPGLs), most often in relation to mutations in the succinate dehydrogenase complex subunit D (SDHD) gene. The treatment paradigm for VPGL has progressively shifted from surgery to abstention or therapeutic radiation with curative-like outcomes. Parathyroid tissue and parathyroid adenoma can also be found in close association with the vagus nerve in intra or paravagal situations. Vagal parathyroid adenoma can be identified with preoperative imaging or suspected intraoperatively by experienced surgeons. Vagal parathyroid adenomas located in the neck or superior mediastinum can be removed via initial cervicotomy, while those located in the aortopulmonary window require a thoracic approach. This review particularly emphasizes the embryology, molecular genetics, and modern imaging of these tumors.

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Henri J L M Timmers, Anne-Paule Gimenez-Roqueplo, Massimo Mannelli and Karel Pacak

Paragangliomas (PGLs) derive from either sympathetic chromaffin tissue in adrenal and extra-adrenal abdominal or thoracic locations, or from parasympathetic tissue of the head and neck. Mutations of nuclear genes encoding subunits B, C, and D of the mitochondrial enzyme succinate dehydrogenase (SDHB 1p35-p36.1, SDHC 1q21, SDHD 11q23) give rise to hereditary PGL syndromes PGL4, PGL3, and PGL1 respectively. The susceptibility gene for PGL2 on 11q13.1 remains unidentified. Mitochondrial dysfunction due to SDHx mutations have been linked to tumorigenesis by upregulation of hypoxic and angiogenesis pathways, apoptosis resistance and developmental culling of neuronal precursor cells. SDHB-, SDHC-, and SDHD-associated PGLs give rise to more or less distinct clinical phenotypes. SDHB mutations mainly predispose to extra-adrenal, and to a lesser extent, adrenal PGLs, with a high malignant potential, but also head and neck paragangliomas (HNPGL). SDHD mutations are typically associated with multifocal HNPGL and usually benign adrenal and extra-adrenal PGLs. SDHC mutations are a rare cause of mainly HNPGL. Most abdominal and thoracic SDHB-PGLs hypersecrete either norepinephrine or norepinephrine and dopamine. However, only some hypersecrete dopamine, are biochemically silent. The biochemical phenotype of SDHD-PGL has not been systematically studied. For the localization of PGL, several positron emission tomography (PET) tracers are available. Metastatic SDHB-PGL is the best localized by [18F]-fluorodeoxyglucose PET. The identification of SDHx mutations in patients with PGL is warranted for a tailor-made approach to the biochemical diagnosis, imaging, treatment, follow-up, and family screening.

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David Taïeb, Abhishek Jha, Giorgio Treglia and Karel Pacak

In recent years, advancement in genetics has profoundly helped to gain a more comprehensive molecular, pathogenic, and prognostic picture of pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGLs). Newly discovered molecular targets, particularly those that target cell membranes or signaling pathways have helped move nuclear medicine in the forefront of PPGL precision medicine. This is mainly based on the introduction and increasing experience of various PET radiopharmaceuticals across PPGL genotypes quickly followed by implementation of novel radiotherapies and revised imaging algorithms. Particularly, 68Ga-labeled-SSAs have shown excellent results in the diagnosis and staging of PPGLs and in selecting patients for PRRT as a potential alternative to 123/131I-MIBG theranostics. PRRT using 90Y/177Lu-DOTA-SSAs has shown promise for treatment of PPGLs with improvement of clinical symptoms and/or disease control. However, more well-designed prospective studies are required to confirm these findings, in order to fully exploit PRRT’s antitumoral properties to obtain the final FDA approval. Such an approval has recently been obtained for high‐specific-activity 131I-MIBG for inoperable/metastatic PPGL. The increasing experience and encouraging preliminary results of these radiotherapeutic approaches in PPGLs now raises an important question of how to further integrate them into PPGL management (e.g. monotherapy or in combination with other systemic therapies), carefully taking into account the PPGLs locations, genotypes, and growth rate. Thus, targeted radionuclide therapy (TRT) should preferably be performed at specialized centers with an experienced interdisciplinary team. Future perspectives include the introduction of dosimetry and biomarkers for therapeutic responses for more individualized treatment plans, α-emitting isotopes, and the combination of TRT with other systemic therapies.

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Douglas Wiseman, James D McDonald, Dhaval Patel, Electron Kebebew, Karel Pacak and Naris Nilubol

Postoperative hypotension frequently occurs after resection of pheochromocytoma and/or paraganglioma (PPGLs). Epidural anesthesia (EA) is often used for pain control in open resection of these tumors; one of its side effects is hypotension. Our aim is to determine if EA is associated with an increased risk of postoperative hypotension after open resection of PPGLs. We conducted a retrospective review of patients who underwent open resection of PPGLs at the National Institutes of Health from 2004 to 2019. Clinical and perioperative parameters were analyzed by the use of EA. The primary endpoint was postoperative hypotension. Ninety-seven patients (46 female and 51 male; mean age, 38.5 years) underwent open resection of PPGLs and 69 (71.1%) received EA. Patients with EA had a higher rate beta-blocker use (79.7% vs 57.1%, P = 0.041), metastasis (69.6% vs 39.3%, P = 0.011), and were more frequently hypotensive after surgery (58.8% vs 25.0%, P = 0.003) compared to those without EA. Patients with postoperative hypotension had higher plasma normetanephrines than those without (7.3 fold vs 4.1 fold above the upper limit of normal, P = 0.018). Independent factors associated with postoperative hypotension include the use of beta-blockers (HR = 3.35 (95% CI: 1.16–9.67), P = 0.026) and EA (HR = 3.49 (95% CI: 1.25–9.76), P = 0.017). Data from this retrospective study suggest that, in patients with open resection of PPGLs, EA is an independent risk factor for early postoperative hypotension. Special caution is required in patients on beta-blockade. A prospective evaluation with standardized protocols for the use of EA and management of hemodynamic variability is necessary.

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Zhengping Zhuang, Chunzhang Yang, Ales Ryska, Yuan Ji, Yingyong Hou, Sky D Graybill, Petra Bullova, Irina A Lubensky, Günter Klöppel and Karel Pacak

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Vanessa D'Antongiovanni, Serena Martinelli, Susan Richter, Letizia Canu, Daniele Guasti, Tommaso Mello, Paolo Romagnoli, Karel Pacak, Graeme Eisenhofer, Massimo Mannelli and Elena Rapizzi

Pheochromocytomas (Pheos) and paragangliomas (PGLs) are neuroendocrine tumors. Approximately 30–40% of Pheos/PGLs are due to germline mutations in one of the susceptibility genes, including those encoding the succinate dehydrogenase subunits A-D (SDHA-D). Up to 2/3 of patients affected by SDHB mutated Pheo/PGL develop metastatic disease with no successful cure at present. Here, for the first time, we evaluated the effects of SDHB silencing in a three dimension (3D) culture using spheroids of a mouse Pheo cell line silenced or not (wild type/wt/control) for the SDHB subunit. We investigated the role of the microenvironment on spheroid growth and migration/invasion by co-culturing SDHB-silenced or wt spheroids with primary cancer-activated fibroblasts (CAFs). When spheroids were co-cultured with fibroblasts, SDHB-silenced cells showed a significant increase in matrigel invasion as demonstrated by the computation of the migratory areas (P < 0.001). Moreover, cells detaching from the SDHB-silenced spheroids moved collectively, unlike the cells of wt spheroids that moved individually. Additionally, SDHB-silenced spheroids developed long filamentous formations along which clusters of cells migrated far away from the spheroid, whereas these structures were not present in wt spheroids. We found that lactate, largely secreted by CAFs, plays a specific role in promoting migration only of SDHB-silenced cells. In this study, we demonstrated that SDHB silencing per se increases tumor cell migration/invasion and that microenvironment, as represented by CAFs, plays a pivotal role in enhancing collective migration/invasion in Pheo SDHB-silenced tumor cells, suggesting their role in increasing the tumor metastasizing potential.