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E Rapizzi, T Ercolino, L Canu, V Giaché, M Francalanci, C Pratesi, A Valeri, and M Mannelli

To date, the consequences of succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) impairment on overall mitochondrial functions are still obscure. In this study, we evaluated SDH activity and expression and mitochondrial homeostasis in 57 tissue samples of pheochromocytoma (PHEO)/paraganglioma (PGL) obtained from patients genotyped for PHEO/PGL susceptibility genes. The resulted SDH activity and content always decreased in SDH-mutated tumors, in one out of two MAX-mutated patients and in four patients resulted wild type (wt) at genetic screening. All these four wt patients were further screened for large deletions in SDH genes, TMEM127 and MAX and resulted wt but two had somatic SDHD mutations. The RT-PCR in the MAX-mutated sample suggests that the decrease in SDH depends on complex instability and not on a reduced SDHB expression. SDH mutations neither alter citrate synthase (CS) activity nor the content of voltage-dependent anion channel (VDAC) while the expression of the mitochondrial complex IV (cytochrome c oxidase (COX)) was found extremely variable in all (mutated and wt) samples suggesting an impairment of mitochondrial cristae in these tumors. In conclusion, tumors from patients with germ line SDH mutations invariably show decreased enzymatic activity and content, but an SDH impairment may also depend on SDH somatic mutations or, seemingly, on MAX mutations. The impaired SDH activity in the two wt tissues suggests mutations in other still unknown susceptibility genes. Finally, the extreme variability in COX expression levels is yet to be explained and this strongly suggests to evaluate other mitochondrial features to better understand the mitochondrial role in the pathogenesis 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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G Eisenhofer, T-T Huynh, K Pacak, F M Brouwers, M M Walther, W M Linehan, P J Munson, M Mannelli, D S Goldstein, and A G Elkahloun

Pheochromocytomas in von Hippel–Lindau (VHL) syndrome produce exclusively norepinephrine, whereas those in multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN 2) produce epinephrine. This study examined the pathways activated in VHL-associated pheochromocytomas by comparing gene expression profiles in VHL and MEN 2 tumors in relationship to profiles in sporadic norepinephrine- and epinephrine-producing tumors. Larger and more distinct differences in gene expression among hereditary than sporadic tumors indicated the importance of the underlying mutation to gene expression profiles. Many of the genes over-expressed in VHL compared with MEN 2 tumors were clearly linked to the hypoxia-driven angiogenic pathways that are activated in VHL-associated tumorigenesis. Such genes included those for the glucose transporter, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), placental growth factor, angiopoietin 2, tie-1, VEGF receptor 2 and its coreceptor, neuropilin-1. Other up-regulated genes, such as connective tissue growth factor, cysteine-rich 61, matrix metalloproteinase 1, vascular endothelial cadherin, tenascin C, stanniocalcin 1, and cyclooxygenases 1 and 2 are known to be involved in VEGF-regulated angiogenesis. Shared differences in expression of subsets of genes in norepinephrine- versus epinephrine-producing hereditary and sporadic pheochromocytomas indicated other differences in gene expression that may underlie the biochemical phenotype. Over-expression of the hypoxia-inducible transcription factor, HIF-2α, in norepinephrine-predominant sporadic and VHL tumors compared with epinephrine-producing tumors indicates that expression of this gene depends on the noradrenergic biochemical phenotype. The findings fit with the known expression of HIF-2α in norepinephrine-producing cells of the sympathetic nervous system and might explain both the development and noradrenergic biochemical phenotype of pheochromocytomas in VHL syndrome.

Free access

Graeme Eisenhofer, Karel Pacak, Thanh-Truc Huynh, Nan Qin, Gennady Bratslavsky, W Marston Linehan, Massimo Mannelli, Peter Friberg, Stefan K Grebe, Henri J Timmers, Stefan R Bornstein, and Jacques W M Lenders

Phaeochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGLs) are highly heterogeneous tumours with variable catecholamine biochemical phenotypes and diverse hereditary backgrounds. This analysis of 18 catecholamine-related plasma and urinary biomarkers in 365 patients with PPGLs and 846 subjects without PPGLs examined how catecholamine metabolomic profiles are impacted by hereditary background and relate to variable hormone secretion. Catecholamine secretion was assessed in a subgroup of 156 patients from whom tumour tissue was available for measurements of catecholamine contents. Among all analytes, the free catecholamine O-methylated metabolites measured in plasma showed the largest tumour-related increases relative to the reference group. Patients with tumours due to multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 and neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) showed similar catecholamine metabolite and secretory profiles to patients with adrenaline-producing tumours and no evident hereditary background. Tumours from these three patient groups contained higher contents of catecholamines, but secreted the hormones at lower rates than tumours that did not contain appreciable adrenaline, the latter including PPGLs due to von Hippel–Lindau (VHL) and succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) gene mutations. Large increases of plasma dopamine and its metabolites additionally characterised patients with PPGLs due to the latter mutations, whereas patients with NF1 were characterised by large increases in plasma dihydroxyphenylglycol and dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, the deaminated metabolites of noradrenaline and dopamine. This analysis establishes the utility of comprehensive catecholamine metabolite profiling for characterising the distinct and highly diverse catecholamine metabolomic and secretory phenotypes among different groups of patients with PPGLs. The data further suggest developmental origins of PPGLs from different populations of chromaffin cell progenitors.

Free access

F M Brouwers, E F Petricoin III, L Ksinantova, J Breza, V Rajapakse, S Ross, D Johann, M Mannelli, B L Shulkin, R Kvetnansky, G Eisenhofer, M M Walther, B A Hitt, T P Conrads, T D Veenstra, D P Mannion, M R Wall, G M Wolfe, V A Fusaro, L A Liotta, and K Pacak

Metastatic lesions occur in up to 36% of patients with pheochromocytoma. Currently there is no way to reliably detect or predict which patients are at risk for metastatic pheochromocytoma. Thus, the discovery of biomarkers that could distinguish patients with benign disease from those with metastatic disease would be of great clinical value. Using surface-enhanced laser desorption ionization protein chips combined with high-resolution mass spectrometry, we tested the hypothesis that pheochromocytoma pathologic states can be reflected as biomarker information within the low molecular weight (LMW) region of the serum proteome. LMW protein profiles were generated from the serum of 67 pheochromocytoma patients from four institutions and analyzed by two different bioinformatics approaches employing pattern recognition algorithms to determine if the LMW component of the circulatory proteome contains potentially useful discriminatory information. Both approaches were able to identify combinations of LMW molecules which could distinguish all metastatic from all benign pheochromocytomas in a separate blinded validation set.

In conclusion, for this study set low molecular mass biomarker information correlated with pheochromocytoma pathologic state using blinded validation. If confirmed in larger validation studies, efforts to identify the underlying diagnostic molecules by sequencing would be warranted. In the future, measurement of these biomarkers could be potentially used to improve the ability to identify patients with metastatic disease.

Restricted access

S G Creemers, R A Feelders, N Valdes, C L Ronchi, M Volante, B M van Hemel, M Luconi, M H T Ettaieb, M Mannelli, M D Chiara, M Fassnacht, M Papotti, M N Kerstens, G Nesi, H R Haak, F J van Kemenade, and L J Hofland

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is diagnosed using the histopathological Weiss score (WS), but remains clinically elusive unless it has metastasized or grows locally invasive. Previously, we proposed the objective IGF2 methylation score as diagnostic tool for ACC. This multicenter European cohort study validates these findings. Patient and tumor characteristics were obtained from adrenocortical tumor patients. DNA was isolated from frozen specimens, where after DMR2, CTCF3, and H19 were pyrosequenced. The predictive value of the methylation score for malignancy, defined by the WS or metastasis development, was assessed using receiver operating characteristic curves and logistic and Cox regression analyses. Seventy-six ACC patients and 118 patients with adrenocortical adenomas were included from seven centers. The methylation score and tumor size were independently associated with the pathological ACC diagnosis (OR 3.756 95% CI 2.224–6.343; OR 1.467 95% CI 1.202–1.792, respectively; Hosmer–Lemeshow test P = 0.903), with an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.957 (95% CI 0.930–0.984). The methylation score alone resulted in an AUC of 0.910 (95% CI 0.866–0.952). Cox regression analysis revealed that the methylation score, WS and tumor size predicted development of metastases in univariate analysis. In multivariate analysis, only the WS predicted development of metastasis (OR 1.682 95% CI 1.285–2.202; P < 0.001). In conclusion, we validated the high diagnostic accuracy of the IGF2 methylation score for diagnosing ACC in a multicenter European cohort study. Considering the known limitations of the WS, the objective IGF2 methylation score could potentially provide extra guidance on decisions on postoperative strategies in adrenocortical tumor patients.