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Maria Chiara Zatelli, Erika Maria Grossrubatscher, Elia Guadagno, Concetta Sciammarella, Antongiulio Faggiano, and Annamaria Colao

The prognosis of neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) is widely variable and has been shown to associate with several tissue- and blood-based biomarkers in different settings. The identification of prognostic factors predicting NEN outcome is of paramount importance to select the best clinical management for these patients. Prognostic markers have been intensively investigated, also taking advantage of the most modern techniques, in the perspective of personalized medicine and appropriate resource utilization. This review summarizes the available data on the possible role of circulating tumor cells and microRNAs as prognostic markers in NENs.

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Maria Chiara Zatelli, Elia Guadagno, Erika Messina, Fabio Lo Calzo, Antongiulio Faggiano, Annamaria Colao, and NIKE Group

The recent recognition that grade 3 (G3) neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) can be divided into two different categories according to the histopathological differentiation, that is G3 neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) and G3 neuroendocrine carcinomas (NECs) has generated a lot of interest concerning not only the diagnosis, but also the differential management of such new group of NENs. However, several issues need to be fully clarified in order to put G3 NETs and G3 NECs in the right place. The aim of this review is to focus on those issues that are still undetermined starting from the current knowledge, evaluating the available evidence and the possible clinical implications.

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Maria Chiara Zatelli, Giuseppe Fanciulli, Pasqualino Malandrino, Valeria Ramundo, Antongiulio Faggiano, Annamaria Colao, and on behalf of NIKE Group

Medical treatment of neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) has drawn a lot of attention due to the recent demonstration of efficacy of several drugs on progression-free survival, including somatostatin analogs, small tyrosine kinase inhibitors and mTOR inhibitors (or rapalogs). The latter are approved as therapeutic agents in advanced pancreatic NETs and have been demonstrated to be effective in different types of NETs, with variable efficacy due to the development of resistance to treatment. Early detection of patients that may benefit from rapalogs treatment is of paramount importance in order to select the better treatment and avoid ineffective and expensive treatments. Predictive markers for therapeutic response are under intensive investigation, aiming at a tailored patient management and more appropriate resource utilization. This review summarizes the available data on the tissue, circulating and imaging markers that are potentially predictive of rapalog efficacy in NETs.

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Maria Chiara Zatelli, Andrea Luchin, Federico Tagliati, Stefania Leoni, Daniela Piccin, Marta Bondanelli, Roberta Rossi, and Ettore C degli Uberti

Breast cancer cells are usually sensitive to several chemotherapeutic regimens, but they can develop chemoresistance after prolonged exposure to cytotoxic drugs, acquiring a more aggressive phenotype. Drug resistance might involve the multi-drug resistance (MDR) 1 gene, encoding a transmembrane glycoprotein p-170 (P-gp), which antagonizes intracellular accumulation of cytotoxic agents, such as doxorubicin. We previously demonstrated that type 2 cyclooxygenase (COX-2) inhibitors can reverse the chemoresistance phenotype of a medullary thyroid carcinoma cell line by inhibiting P-gp expression and function. The aim of our study was to investigate the role of COX-2 inhibitors in modulating chemoresistance in a human breast cancer cell line, MCF7. MCF7 cells, expressing COX-2 but not MDR1, were treated with increasing doses of doxorubicin, and they became chemoresistant after 10 days of treatment, in association with MDR1 expression induction. This effect was reversed by doxorubicin withdrawal and prevented by co-incubation with N-[2-(cyclohexyloxy)4-nitrophenyl]-methanesulfonamide (NS-398), a selective COX-2 inhibitor. Treatment with NS-398 alone did not influence cell viability of a resistant MCF7 cell clone (rMCF7), but sensitized rMCF7 cells to the cytotoxic effects of doxorubicin. Moreover, treatment with NS-398 significantly reduced MDR1 expression in rMCF7 cells. Doxorubicin-induced membrane P-gp expression and function was also greatly impaired. Our data therefore support the hypothesis that COX-2 inhibitors can prevent or reduce the development of the chemoresistance phenotype in breast cancer cells by inhibiting P-gp expression and function.

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Daniela Molè, Teresa Gagliano, Erica Gentilin, Federico Tagliati, Claudio Pasquali, Maria Rosaria Ambrosio, Giancarlo Pansini, Ettore C degli Uberti, and Maria Chiara Zatelli

Dysregulation of the protein kinase C (PKC) signaling pathway has been implicated in tumor progression. In this study, we investigate the effects of a PKC inhibitor, Enzastaurin, in human pancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms (PNN) primary cultures and in the human pancreatic endocrine cancer cell line, BON1. To this aim six human PNN dispersed in primary cultures and BON1 cells were treated without or with 1–10 μM Enzastaurin and/or 100 nM IGF1 in the presence or absence of serum. Cell viability and apoptosis were evaluated after 48–72 h; Chromogranin A (CgA) and/or insulin secretion was assessed after 6 h of incubation. PKC expression was investigated by immunofluorescence and western blot. We found that Enzastaurin significantly reduced human PNN primary culture cell viability, as well as CgA and insulin secretion. Moreover, in the BON1 cell line Enzastaurin inhibited cell proliferation at 5 and 10 μM by inducing caspase-mediated apoptosis, and reduced phosphorylation of glycogen synthetase kinase 3β (GSK3β) and of Akt, both downstream targets of PKC pathway and pharmacodynamic markers for Enzastaurin. In addition, Enzastaurin blocked the stimulatory effect of IGF1 on cell proliferation, and reduced CgA expression and secretion in BON1 cells. Two different PKC isoforms are expressed at different levels and have partially different subcellular localization in BON1 cells. In conclusion, Enzastaurin reduces cell proliferation by inducing apoptosis, with a mechanism likely involving GSK3β signaling, and inhibits secretory activity in PNN in vitro models, suggesting that Enzastaurin might represent a possible medical treatment of human PNN.

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Vincenzo Marotta, Maria Chiara Zatelli, Concetta Sciammarella, Maria Rosaria Ambrosio, Marta Bondanelli, Annamaria Colao, and Antongiulio Faggiano

Owing to the heterogeneity of neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs), the availability of reliable circulating markers is critical for improving diagnostics, prognostic stratification, follow-up and definition of treatment strategy. This review is focused on chromogranin A (CgA), a hydrophilic glycoprotein present in large dense core vesicles of neuroendocrine cells. Despite being long identified as the most useful NEN-related circulating marker, clinical application of CgA is controversial. CgA assays still lack standardization, thus hampering not only clinical management but also the comparison between different analyses. In the diagnostic setting, clinical utility of CgA is limited as hampered by (a) the variety of oncological and non-oncological conditions affecting marker levels, which impairs specificity; (b) the fact that 30–50% of NENs show normal CgA, which impairs sensitivity. Regarding the prognostic phase, there is prospective evidence which demonstrates that advanced NENs secreting CgA have poorer outcome, as compared with those showing non-elevated marker levels. Although the identification of cut-offs allowing a proper risk stratification of CgA-secreting patients has not been performed, this represents the most important clinical application of the marker. By contrast, based on prospective studies, the trend of elevated circulating CgA does not represent a valid indicator of morphological evolution and has therefore no utility for the follow-up phase. Ultimately, current knowledge about the role of the marker for the definition of treatment strategy is poor and is limited by the small number of available studies, their prevalent retrospective nature and the absence of control groups of untreated subjects.

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Maria Chiara Zatelli, Mariella Minoia, Chiara Martini, Federico Tagliati, Maria Rosaria Ambrosio, Marco Schiavon, Mattia Buratto, Fiorella Calabrese, Erica Gentilin, Giorgio Cavallesco, Lisa Berdondini, Federico Rea, and Ettore C degli Uberti

Bronchial carcinoids (BCs) are rare tumors originating from endocrine cells dispersed in the respiratory epithelium. It has been previously demonstrated that everolimus, or RAD001, an mTOR inhibitor, has potent antiproliferative effects in human endocrine tumors. Our aim was to evaluate the possible antiproliferative effects of everolimus in human BCs in primary culture. We collected 24 BCs that were dispersed in primary cultures, treated without or with 1 nM–1 μM everolimus, 10 nM SOM230 (pasireotide, a somatostatin receptor multiligand), and/or 50 nM IGF1. Cell viability was evaluated after 48 h, and chromogranin A (CgA) as well as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) secretion was assessed after 8 h incubation. Somatostatin receptors, mTOR, and AKT expression were investigated by quantitative PCR. We found that in 15 cultures (67.5%), everolimus significantly reduced cell viability (by ∼30%; P<0.05 versus control), inhibited p70S6K activity (−30%), and blocked IGF1 proliferative effects. Everolimus also significantly reduced CgA (by ∼20%) and VEGF (by ∼15%) secretion. Cotreatment with SOM230 did not exert additive effects on cell viability and secretory activity. AKT expression was similar in responder and nonresponder tissues, while mTOR expression was significantly higher in the responder group, which was characterized by higher CgA plasma levels and bigger tumors with higher mitotic index and angiogenesis. Our data demonstrate that everolimus reduces VEGF secretion and cell viability in BCs with a mechanism likely involving IGF1 signaling, suggesting that it might represent a possible medical treatment for BCs.

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Simona Falletta, Stefano Partelli, Corrado Rubini, Dominik Nann, Andrea Doria, Ilaria Marinoni, Vanessa Polenta, Carmelina Di Pasquale, Ettore degli Uberti, Aurel Perren, Massimo Falconi, and Maria Chiara Zatelli

Medical therapy of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (P-NET) may take advantage of Everolimus treatment. However, the extent of therapeutic response cannot be predicted. This study was aimed to identify the possible predictive markers of response to Everolimus in P-NET. We found that Everolimus reduced the cell viability and induced apoptosis in primary cultures of 6 P-NET (P-NET-R), where the proliferative and antiapoptotic effects of IGF1 were blocked by Everolimus. On the contrary, 14 P-NET primary cultures (P-NET-NR) were resistant to Everolimus and IGF1, suggesting an involvement of PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway in the mechanism of resistance. The response to Everolimus in vitro was associated with an active AKT/mTOR pathway and seemed to be associated with a greater clinical aggressiveness. In addition, a patient sensitive to Everolimus in vitro was sensitive to this drug in vivo also and showed a positive p-AKT immunohistochemistry (IHC) at tissue level. Similarly, a patient resistant to Everolimus treatment after surgery was not sensitive to the drug in vitro and had a negative p-AKT IHC staining. Therefore, present data confirm that P-NET primary cultures may be considered a model for testing medical treatment efficacy and that IHC characterization of p-AKT might help in identifying human P-NET who can benefit from Everolimus treatment. These data encourage conducting a prospective multicenter study involving different groups of P-NET patients treated with Everolimus.

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Maria Chiara Zatelli, Daniela Piccin, Cristina Vignali, Federico Tagliati, Maria Rosaria Ambrosio, Marta Bondanelli, Vincenzo Cimino, Antonio Bianchi, Herbert A Schmid, Massimo Scanarini, Alfredo Pontecorvi, Laura De Marinis, Giulio Maira, and Ettore C degli Uberti

Somatostatin (SRIF) analogs have been employed in medical therapy of non-functioning pituitary adenomas (NFA), with contrasting results. Previous evidence showed that SRIF can exert its antiproliferative effects by reducing vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) secretion and action, and that VEGF expression may be related to pituitary tumor growth. The aim of our study was to clarify the possible effects of a multireceptor SRIF ligand on VEGF secretion and cell proliferation in human NFA primary cultures. We assessed the expression of SRIF receptors (SSTR1–5), the in vitro effects on VEGF secretion, and on cell viability of SRIF and of the stable SRIF analog pasireotide (SOM230), which activates SSTR1, 2, 3, and 5. Twenty-five NFA were examined by RT-PCR for expression of α-subunit, SSTR, VEGF, and VEGF receptors 1 (VEGF-R1) and 2 (VEGF-R2). Primary cultures were tested with SRIF and with pasireotide. All NFA samples expressed α-sub, VEGF and VEGFR-1 and 2, while SSTR expression pattern was highly variable. Two different groups were identified according to VEGF secretion inhibition by SRIF. VEGF secretion and cell viability were reduced by SRIF and pasireotide in the ‘responder’ group, but not in the ‘non-responder’ group, including NFA expressing SSTR5. SRIF and pasireotide completely blocked forskolin-induced VEGF secretion. In addition, SRIF and pasireotide completely abrogated the promoting effects of VEGF on NFA cell viability. Our data demonstrate that pasireotide can inhibit NFA cell viability by inhibiting VEGF secretion, and suggest that the multireceptor-SSTR agonist pasireotide might be useful in medical therapy of selected NFA.

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Teresa Gagliano, Mariaenrica Bellio, Erica Gentilin, Daniela Molè, Federico Tagliati, Marco Schiavon, Narciso Giorgio Cavallesco, Luigi Gaetano Andriolo, Maria Rosaria Ambrosio, Federico Rea, Ettore degli Uberti, and Maria Chiara Zatelli

Bronchial carcinoids (BCs) are rare neuroendocrine tumors that are still orphans of medical treatment. Human BC primary cultures may display resistance to everolimus, an inhibitor of the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), in terms of cell viability reduction. Our aim was to assess whether the novel dual phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/mTOR inhibitor NVP-BEZ235 is effective in everolimus-resistant human BC tissues and cell lines. In addition, we searched for possible markers of the efficacy of mTOR inhibitors that may help in identifying the patients who may benefit from treatment with mTOR inhibitors, sparing them from ineffective therapy. We found that NVP-BEZ235 is twice as potent as everolimus in reducing cell viability and activating apoptosis in human BC tissues that display sensitivity to mTOR inhibitors, but is not effective in everolimus-resistant BC tissues and cell lines that bypass cyclin D1 downregulation and escape G0/G1 blockade. Rebound AKT activation was not observed in response to treatment with either mTOR inhibitor in the ‘resistant’ BC cells. In addition to total mTOR levels, putative markers of the sensitivity of BCs to mTOR inhibitors are represented by AKT, p70S6K (RPS6KB2), and ERK1/2 (MAPK3/1) protein levels. Finally, we validated these markers in an independent BC group. These data indicate that the dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitor NVP-BEZ235 is more potent than everolimus in reducing the proliferation of human BC cells. ‘Resistant’ cells display lower levels of mTOR, p70S6K, AKT, and ERK1/2, indicating that these proteins may be useful as predictive markers of resistance to mTOR and PI3K/mTOR inhibitors in human BCs.