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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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Karel Pacak and Roderick J. Clifton-Bligh

Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGLs) are defined as neuroendocrine tumors that produce catecholamines. Many recent advances in their management, localization, treatment, as well as surveillance have significantly improved outcomes for patients with PPGLs or carriers of pathogenic genetic variants linked to the development of these tumors. At present those advances mainly include: the molecular stratification of PPGLs into 7 clusters, the 2017 WHO revised definition of these tumors, the presence of specific clinical features pointing towards PPGL, the use of plasma metanephrines and 3-methoxytyramine with specific reference limits to assess the likelihood of having a PPGL (e.g. patients at high and low risk) including age-specific reference limits, nuclear medicine guidelines outlining cluster- and metastatic disease-specific functional (here mainly positron emission tomography and metaiodobenzylguanidine scintigraphy) imaging in the precise diagnostic localization of PPGLs, the guidelines for using radio- vs chemotherapy for patients with metastatic disease, and the international consensus on initial screening and follow-up of asymptomatic germline SDHx pathogenic variant carriers. Furthermore, new collaborative efforts particularly based on multi-institutional and worldwide initiatives are now considered key forces in improving our understanding and knowledge about these tumors and future successful treatments or even preventative interventions.

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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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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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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.

Free access

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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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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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.

Free access

Karel Pacak, Mark Kidd, Leah Meuter, and Irvin M Modlin

Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PHEOs/PGLs) represent diagnostically challenging and complex neuroendocrine tumors (NETs). Current biomarker tests for PHEOs/PGLs are technically complex or limited. We assessed the diagnostic utility of a NET-specific 51-marker gene blood assay (NETest) in patients with PHEOs/PGLs (n = 81), including ten pediatric patients, and age-/gender-matched controls (n = 142) using a prospective case:control (1:2) analysis. mRNA was measured (qPCR), and results were scaled from 0 to 100 (upper limit of normal < 20). Receiver operating curve (ROC) and non-parametric (Mann–Whitney) tests were used for analyses (two-tailed). All data are presented as mean ± s.e.m. NETest accuracy for PHEO/PGL diagnosis was 100%. PHEO/PGL scores were 70 ± 3 vs 8.5 ± 1 in controls (P < 0.0001), and ROC analysis was 0.99 ± 0.004 (P < 0.0001). Diagnostic metrics were 94% accurate, 100% sensitive, and 92% specific. Imaging correlation with 68Ga-PET-SSA was 100%. NETest levels in PHEOs (n = 26) were significantly (P < 0.0001) elevated (83 ± 4) vs 66 ± 4 in PGLs (n = 40) and mixed PHEOs/PGLs (n = 5: 37 ± 3). Adrenal-derived tumors (n = 30) exhibited higher scores (76 ± 5) than extra-adrenal-derived tumors (66 ± 4, P < 0.05). Cluster 2 tumors exhibited significantly (P = 0.034) elevated NETest levels (n = 4: 92 ± 2) vs cluster 1 tumors (n = 35: 69 ± 4). Regulatory pathway analysis identified elevated RAS-RAF, metastatic, pluripotential, neural and secretory gene cluster levels (P < 0.05) in PHEOs compared to PGLs. Cluster 2 PPGLs exhibited elevated (P = 0.046) levels of growth factor signaling genes compared to cluster 1. The PHEOs/PGLs in the pediatric cohort (n = 10) were all NETest-positive (81 ± 8) and exhibited a gene expression profile spectrum analogous to adults. Circulating NET transcript analysis identifies PHEOs/PGLs with 100% efficacy and is likely to have clinical utility in the diagnosis and management of PHEO/PGL patients.

Free access

David Taïeb, Christelle Fargette, Abhishek Jha, and Karel Pacak

Precision medicine (PM) aims to maximize the risk–benefit balance of medical decisions by integrating individual patient and disease characteristics. This approach is gaining increasing recognition from clinicians, healthcare systems, pharmaceutical companies, patients, and governments. Nuclear medicine plays a critical role in PM by its virtue of providing critical information at every step of disease management, digital markers, and companion diagnostics/therapeutics. It is anticipated that technological breakthroughs and new tracers will continue to position nuclear medicine among the significant players in PM.