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Giovanni Vitale, Germano Gaudenzi, Alessandra Dicitore, Franco Cotelli, Diego Ferone and Luca Persani

Tumor models have a relevant role in furthering our understanding of the biology of malignant disease and in preclinical cancer research. Only few models are available for neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), probably due to the rarity and heterogeneity of this group of neoplasms. This review provides insights into the current state-of-the-art of zebrafish as a model in cancer research, focusing on potential applications in NETs. Zebrafish has a complex circulatory system similar to that of mammals. A novel angiogenesis assay based on the injection of human NET cell lines (TT and DMS79 cells) into the subperidermal space of the zebrafish embryos has been developed. Proangiogenic factors locally released by the tumor graft affect the normal developmental pattern of the subintestinal vessels by stimulating the migration and growth of sprouting vessels toward the implant. In addition, a description of the striking homology between zebrafish and humans of molecular targets involved in tumor angiogenesis (somatostatin receptors, dopamine receptors, mammalian target of rapamycin), and currently used as targeted therapy of NETs, is reported.

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Daniela Cordella, Marina Muzza, Luisella Alberti, Paolo Colombo, Pietro Travaglini, Paolo Beck-Peccoz, Laura Fugazzola and Luca Persani

Activating mutations of the RET proto-oncogene are associated with inherited syndromes, multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN2A/2B) and with familial and sporadic medullary thyroid cancer (MTC). Single base pair missense mutations in the extracellular Cys-rich domain are responsible for most MEN2A and familial MTC (FMTC) cases. Rarely, somatic deletions and germline duplications have been described in sporadic MTC and in FMTC. We report the detection and functional studies of a deletion/insertion in exon 11 (c.2646delGinsTTCT) associated with FMTC. This in-frame complex rearrangement leads to an Asn to Lys change (Lys666Asn) and to a Ser insertion. The mutation was found in the proband, who was diagnosed with metastatic MTC at 41 years, and in her son, who presented diffuse C-cells hyperplasia at 4 years of age. The mutation displayed a transforming activity stronger than Ret wild type (Ret-WT) at the focus formation assay and functional analyses after transient and stable transfection revealed an increased autophosphorylation, indicating the constitutive activation of the receptor. The transforming activity may be favoured by an increased stabilization of the fully mature form of the mutant receptor. Dimerization assay demonstrated that the activation mechanism of the complex mutation is not mediated by stable dimer formation. Computational analysis predicted nonconservative alterations in the mutant protein consistent with a possible modification of the conformation of the receptor. In conclusion, the first molecular studies on a complex germline RET mutation lying in the juxtamembrane region of the receptor are reported. Functional analyses showed that alterations at this level too can lead to a ligand independent Ret activation.

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Germano Gaudenzi, Silvia Carra, Alessandra Dicitore, Maria Celeste Cantone, Luca Persani and Giovanni Vitale

Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) are a class of rare and heterogeneous neoplasms that originate from the neuroendocrine system. In several cases, these neoplasms can release bioactive hormones leading to characteristic clinical syndromes and hormonal dysregulations with detrimental impact on the quality of life and survival of these patients. Only few animal models are currently available to investigate pathogenesis, progression and functional syndromes in NETs and to identify new therapeutic strategies. The tropical teleost zebrafish (Danio rerio) is a popular vertebrate model system that offers unique advantages for the study of several biological processes, ranging from embryonic development to human diseases such as cancer. In this review, we summarize recent advances on zebrafish models for NET preclinical research that take advantage of modern genetic and transplantable technologies. In the future, these tools may have a role in the treatment decision-making and tertiary prevention of NETs.