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Federico Gatto and Leo J Hofland

Somatostatin (SS) and dopamine (DA) receptors have been highlighted as two critical regulators in the negative control of hormonal secretion in a wide group of human endocrine tumors. Both families of receptors belong to the superfamily of G protein-coupled receptors and share a number of structural and functional characteristics. Because of the generally reported high expression of somatostatin receptors (SSTRs) in neuroendocrine tumors (NET), somatostatin analogs (SSA) have a pronounced role in the medical therapy for this class of tumors, especially pituitary adenomas and well-differentiated gastroenteropancreatic NET (GEP NET). Moreover, NET express not only SSTR but also frequently dopamine receptors (DRs), and DA agonists targeting the D2 receptor (D2) have been demonstrated to be effective in controlling hormone secretion and cell proliferation in in vivo and in vitro studies. The treatment with SSAs combined with DA agonists has already been demonstrated efficacious in a subgroup of patients with GH-secreting pituitary adenomas and few reported cases of carcinoids. The recent availability of new selective and universal SSA and DA agonists, as well as the chimeric SS/DA compounds, may shed new light on the potential role of SSTR and D2 as combined targets for biotherapy in NET. This review provides an overview of the latest studies evaluating the expression of SSTR and DR in NET, focusing on their co-expression and the possible clinical implications of such co-expression. Moreover, the most recent insights in SSTR and D2 pathophysiology and the future perspectives for treatment with SSA, DA agonists, and SS/DA chimeric compounds are discussed.

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Thomas Cuny, Wouter de Herder, Anne Barlier and Leo J Hofland

Gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (GEP-NETs) represent a group of heterogeneous tumors whose incidence increased over the past few years. Around half of patients already present with metastatic disease at the initial diagnosis. Despite extensive efforts, cytotoxic and targeted therapies have provided only limited efficacy for patients with metastatic GEP-NETs, mainly due to the development of a certain state of resistance. One factor contributing to both the failure of systemic therapies and the emergence of an aggressive tumor phenotype may be the tumor microenvironment (TME), comprising dynamic and adaptative assortment of extracellular matrix components and non-neoplastic cells, which surround the tumor niche. Accumulating evidence shows that the TME can simultaneously support both tumor growth and metastasis and contribute to a certain state of resistance to treatment. In this review, we summarize the current knowledge of the TME of GEP-NETs and discuss the current therapeutic agents that target GEP-NETs and those that could be of interest in the (near) future.

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Anela Blažević, Johannes Hofland, Leo J Hofland, Richard A Feelders and Wouter W de Herder

Small intestinal neuroendocrine tumours (SI-NETs) are neoplasms characterized by their ability to secrete biogenic amines and peptides. These cause distinct clinical pathology including carcinoid syndrome, marked by diarrhoea and flushing, as well as fibrosis, notably mesenteric fibrosis. Mesenteric fibrosis often results in significant morbidity by causing intestinal obstruction, oedema and ischaemia. Although advancements have been made to alleviate symptoms of carcinoid syndrome and prolong the survival of patients with SI-NETs, therapeutic options for patients with mesenteric fibrosis are still limited. As improved insight in the complex pathogenesis of mesenteric fibrosis is key to the development of new therapies, we evaluated the literature for known and putative mediators of fibrosis in SI-NETs. In this review, we discuss the tumour microenvironment, growth factors and signalling pathways involved in the complex process of fibrosis development and tumour progression in SI-NETs, in order to elucidate potential new avenues for scientific research and therapies to improve the management of patients suffering from the complications of mesenteric fibrosis.

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Anela Blažević, Wouter T Zandee, Gaston J H Franssen, Johannes Hofland, Marie-Louise F van Velthuysen, Leo J Hofland, Richard A Feelders and Wouter W de Herder

Mesenteric fibrosis (MF) surrounding a mesenteric mass is a hallmark feature of small intestinal neuroendocrine tumours (SI-NETs). Since this can induce intestinal obstruction, oedema and ischaemia, prophylactic resection of the primary tumour and mesenteric mass is often recommended. This study assessed the predictors for mesenteric metastasis and fibrosis and the effect of MF and palliative surgery on survival. A retrospective analysis of 559 patients with pathologically proven SI-NET and available CT-imaging data was performed. Clinical characteristics, presence of mesenteric mass and fibrosis on CT imaging and the effect of palliative abdominal surgery on overall survival were assessed. We found that MF was present in 41.4%. Older age, 5-HIAA excretion ≥67 μmol/24 h, serum CgA ≥121.5 μg/L and a mesenteric mass ≥27.5 mm were independent predictors of MF. In patients ≤52 years, mesenteric mass was less often found in women than in men (39% vs 64%, P = 0.002). Corrected for age, tumour grade, CgA and liver metastasis, MF was not a prognostic factor for overall survival. In patients undergoing palliative surgery, metastasectomy of mesenteric mass or prophylactic surgery did not result in survival benefit. In conclusion, we confirmed known predictors of MF and mesenteric mass and suggest a role for sex hormones as women ≤52 years have less often a mesenteric mass. Furthermore, the presence of MF has no effect on survival in a multivariate analysis, and we found no benefit of metastasectomy of mesenteric mass or prophylactic surgery on overall survival.

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Peter M van Koetsveld, Giovanni Vitale, Richard A Feelders, Marlijn Waaijers, Diana M Sprij-Mooij, Ronald R de Krijger, Ernst-Jan M Speel, Johannes Hofland, Steven W J Lamberts, Wouter W de Herder and Leo J Hofland

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is an aggressive tumor with very poor prognosis. Novel medical treatment opportunities are required. We investigated the effects of interferon-β (IFN-β), alone or in combination with mitotane, on cell growth and cortisol secretion in primary cultures of 13 human ACCs, three adrenal hyperplasias, three adrenal adenomas, and in two ACC cell lines. Moreover, the interrelationship between the effects of IGF2 and IFN-β was evaluated. Mitotane inhibited cell total DNA content/well (representing cell number) in 7/11 (IC50: 38±9.2 μM) and cortisol secretion in 5/5 ACC cultures (IC50: 4.5±0.1 μM). IFN-β reduced cell number in 10/11 (IC50: 83±18 IU/ml) and cortisol secretion in 5/5 ACC cultures (IC50: 7.3±1.5 IU/ml). The effect of IFN-β on cell number included the induction of apoptosis. IFN-β strongly inhibited mRNA expression of STAR, CYP11A1, CYP17A1, and CYP11B1. Mitotane and IFN-β induced an additive inhibitory effect on cell number and cortisol secretion. IGF2 (10 nM) inhibited apoptosis and increased cell number and cortisol secretion. These effects were counteracted by IFN-β treatment. Finally, IFN-β inhibited IGF2 secretion and mRNA expression. In conclusion, IFN-β is a potent inhibitor of ACC cell growth in human primary ACC cultures, partially mediated by an inhibition of the effects of IGF2, as well as its production. The increased sensitivity of ACC cells to mitotane induced by treatment with IFN-β may open the opportunity for combined treatment regimens with lower mitotane doses. The inhibition of the expression of steroidogenic enzymes by IFN-β is a novel mechanism that may explain its inhibitory effect on cortisol production.

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Maria Cristina De Martino, Peter M van Koetsveld, Richard A Feelders, Diana Sprij-Mooij, Marlijn Waaijers, Steven W J Lamberts, Wouter W de Herder, Annamaria Colao, Rosario Pivonello and Leo J Hofland

Patients with adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) need new treatment options. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of the mTOR inhibitors sirolimus and temsirolimus on human ACC cell growth and cortisol production. In H295, HAC15, and SW13 cells, we have evaluated mTOR, IGF2, and IGF1 receptor expressions; the effects of sirolimus and temsirolimus on cell growth; and the effects of sirolimus on apoptosis, cell cycle, and cortisol production. Moreover, the effects of sirolimus on basal and IGF2-stimulated H295 cell colony growth and on basal and IGF1-stimulated phospho-AKT, phospho-S6K1, and phospho-ERK in H295 and SW13 were studied. Finally, we have evaluated the effects of combination treatment of sirolimus with an IGF2-neutralizing antibody. We have found that H295 and HAC15 expressed IGF2 at a >1800-fold higher level than SW13. mTOR inhibitors suppressed cell growth in a dose-/time-dependent manner in all cell lines. SW13 were the most sensitive to these effects. Sirolimus inhibited H295 colony surviving fraction and size. These effects were not antagonized by IGF2, suggesting the involvement of other autocrine regulators of mTOR pathways. In H295, sirolimus activated escape pathways. The blocking of endogenously produced IGF2 increased the antiproliferative effects of sirolimus on H295. Cortisol production by H295 and HAC15 was inhibited by sirolimus. The current study demonstrates that mTOR inhibitors inhibit the proliferation and cortisol production in ACC cells. Different ACC cells have different sensitivity to the mTOR inhibitors. mTOR could be a target for the treatment of human ACCs, but variable responses might be expected. In selected cases of ACC, the combined targeting of mTOR and IGF2 could have greater effects than mTOR inhibitors alone.

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Mieke E R Henfling, Aurel A Perren, Anja M Schmitt, Christiane M Saddig, Achim A Starke, Robert G Riedl, Yvonne M H Versleijen-Jonkers, Diana M Sprij-Mooij, Frans C S Ramaekers, Leo J Hofland and Ernst-Jan M Speel

Clinical and molecular studies have implicated epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), insulin-like growth factor (IGF) and target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathways in the regulation of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (PanNET) growth. Interpretation and comparison of these studies is complex due to clinical and molecular tumor heterogeneity. We therefore focused in this study on insulinomas, which we examined for mRNA and protein expression of EGFR, IGF and mTOR signaling pathway components by quantitative real-time PCR (n = 48) and immunohistochemistry (n = 86). Findings were compared with normal pancreatic islets and correlated with histopathological data and clinical outcome. Insulinomas showed low EGFR and high IGF2 expression. IGFBP2, IGFBP3 and IGFBP6 mRNA levels were 2- to 4-folds higher than those in islets. High protein expression of IGF2, IGF1R and INSR (in 51–92% of the tumors) and low-to-moderate expression of mTORC1 pathway proteins p-S6k and p-4EBP1 (7–28% of the tumors) were observed. Correlations were found between (1) ERK1 mRNA expression and that of numerous IGF pathway genes, (2) p-ERK and IGF1R protein expression and (3) decrease of IGF pathway components and both metastatic disease and shorter 10-year disease-free survival. In conclusion, our observations suggest that high expression of IGF signaling pathway components is a hallmark of insulinomas, but does not necessarily lead to increased mTOR signaling. Reduced expression of IGF pathway components may be an adverse prognostic factor in insulinomas.

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Thomas G Papathomas, Lindsey Oudijk, Ellen C Zwarthoff, Edward Post, Floor A Duijkers, Max M van Noesel, Leo J Hofland, Patrick J Pollard, Eamonn R Maher, David F Restuccia, Richard A Feelders, Gaston J H Franssen, Henri J Timmers, Stefan Sleijfer, Wouter W de Herder, Ronald R de Krijger, Winand N M Dinjens and Esther Korpershoek

Hotspot mutations in the promoter of the telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) gene have been recently reported in human cancers and proposed as a novel mechanism of telomerase activation. To explore TERT promoter mutations in tumors originating from the adrenal gland and extra-adrenal paraganglia, a set of 253 tumors (38 adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs), 127 pheochromocytomas (PCCs), 18 extra-adrenal paragangliomas (ea PGLs), 37 head and neck PGLs (HN PGLs), and 33 peripheral neuroblastic tumors) was selected along with 16 human neuroblastoma (NBL) and two ACC cell lines to assess TERT promoter mutations by the Sanger sequencing method. All mutations detected were confirmed by a SNaPshot assay. Additionally, 36 gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) were added to explore an association between TERT promoter mutations and SDH deficiency. TERT promoter mutations were found in seven out of 289 tumors and in three out of 18 human cell lines; four C228T mutations in 38 ACCs (10.5%), two C228T mutations in 18 ea PGLs (11.1%), one C250T mutation in 36 GISTs (2.8%), and three C228T mutations in 16 human NBL cell lines (18.75%). No mutation was detected in PCCs, HN PGLs, neuroblastic tumors as well as ACC cell lines. TERT promoter mutations preferentially occurred in a SDH-deficient setting (P=0.01) being present in three out of 47 (6.4%) SDH-deficient tumors vs zero out of 171 (0%) SDH-intact tumors. We conclude that TERT promoter mutations occur in ACCs and ea PGLs. In addition, preliminary evidence indicates a potential association with the acquisition of TERT promoter mutations in SDH-deficient tumors.

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Maria Cristina De Martino, Richard A Feelders, Wouter W de Herder, Peter M van Koetsveld, Fadime Dogan, Joseph A M J L Janssen, A Marlijn Waaijers, Claudia Pivonello, Steven W J Lamberts, Annamaria Colao, Ronald R de Krijger, Rosario Pivonello and Leo J Hofland

The mTOR pathway has recently been suggested as a new potential target for therapy in adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs). The aim of the current study is to describe the expression of the mTOR pathway in normal adrenals (NAs) and pathological adrenals and to explore whether there are correlation between the expression of these proteins and the in vitro response to sirolimus. For this purpose, the MTOR, S6K1 (RPS6KB1), and 4EBP1 (EIF4EBP1) mRNA expression were evaluated in ten NAs, ten adrenal hyperplasias (AHs), 17 adrenocortical adenomas (ACAs), and 17 ACCs by qPCR, whereas total(t)/phospho(p)-MTOR, t/p-S6K, and t/p-4EBP1 protein expression were assessed in three NAs, three AHs, six ACAs, and 20 ACCs by immunohistochemistry. The effects of sirolimus on cell survival and/or cortisol secretion in 12 human primary cultures of adrenocortical tumors (ATs) were also evaluated. In NAs and AHs, layer-specific expression of evaluated proteins was observed. S6K1 mRNA levels were lower in ACCs compared with NAs, AHs, and ACAs (P<0.01). A subset of ATs presented a moderate to high staining of the evaluated proteins. Median t-S6K1 protein expression in ACCs was lower than that in ACAs (P<0.01). Moderate to high staining of p-S6K1 and/or p-4EBP1 was observed in most ATs. A subset of ACCs not having moderate to high staining had a higher Weiss score than others (P<0.029). In primary AT cultures, sirolimus significantly reduced cell survival or cortisol secretion only in sporadic cases. In conclusion, these data suggest the presence of an activated mTOR pathway in a subset of ATs and a possible response to sirolimus only in certain ACC cases.

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Tullio Florio, Federica Barbieri, Renato Spaziante, Gianluigi Zona, Leo J Hofland, Peter M van Koetsveld, Richard A Feelders, Günter K Stalla, Marily Theodoropoulou, Michael D Culler, Jesse Dong, John E Taylor, Jacques-Pierre Moreau, Alexandru Saveanu, Ginette Gunz, Henry Dufour and Philippe Jaquet

Dopamine D2 and somatostatin receptors (sstrs) were reported to affect non-functioning pituitary adenoma (NFPA) proliferation in vitro. However, the reported results differ according to the experimental conditions used. We established an experimental protocol allowing reproducible evaluation of NFPA cell proliferation in vitro, to test and compare the antiproliferative effects of dopamine and somatostatin analogs (alone or in combination) with the activity of the dopamine–somatostatin chimeric molecule BIM-23A760. The protocol was utilized by four independent laboratories, studying 38 fibroblast-deprived NFPA cell cultures. Cells were characterized for GH, POMC, sstr1–sstr5, total dopamine D2 receptor (D2R) (in all cases), and D2 receptor long and short isoforms (in 15 out of 38 cases) mRNA expression and for α-subunit, LH, and FSH release. D2R, sstr3, and sstr2 mRNAs were consistently observed, with the dominant expression of D2R (2.9±2.6 copy/copy β-glucuronidase; mean±s.e.m.), when compared with sstr3 and sstr2 (0.6±1.0 and 0.3±0.6 respectively). BIM-23A760, a molecule with high affinity for D2R and sstr2, significantly inhibited [3H]thymidine incorporation in 23 out of 38 (60%) NFPA cultures (EC50=1.2 pM and E max=−33.6±3.7%). BIM-23A760 effects were similar to those induced by the selective D2R agonist cabergoline that showed a statistically significant inhibition in 18 out of 27 tumors (compared with a significant inhibition obtained in 17 out of 27 tumors using BIM-23A760, in the same subgroup of adenomas analyzed), while octreotide was effective in 13 out of 27 cases. In conclusion, superimposable data generated in four independent laboratories using a standardized protocol demonstrate that, in vitro, chimeric dopamine/sstr agonists are effective in inhibiting cell proliferation in two-thirds of NFPAs.