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Ellinor Andersson, Christina Swärd, Göran Stenman, Håkan Ahlman and Ola Nilsson

Ileal carcinoids are malignant neuroendocrine tumours of the small intestine. The aim of this study was to obtain a high-resolution genomic profile of ileal carcinoids in order to define genetic changes important for tumour initiation, progression and survival. Forty-three patients with ileal carcinoids were investigated by high-resolution array-based comparative genomic hybridization. The average number of copy number alterations (CNAs) per tumour was 7.1 (range 1–22), with losses being more common than gains (ratio 1.4). The most frequent CNA was loss of chromosome 18 (74%). Other frequent CNAs were gain of chromosome 4, 5, 14 and 20, and loss of 11q22.1–q22.2, 11q22.3–q23.1 and 11q23.3, and loss of 16q12.2–q22.1 and 16q23.2-qter. Two distinct patterns of CNAs were found; the majority of tumours was characterized by loss of chromosome 18 while a subgroup of tumours had intact chromosome 18, but gain of chromosome 14. Survival analysis, using a series of Poisson regressions including recurrent CNAs, demonstrated that gain of chromosome 14 was a strong predictor of poor survival. In conclusion, high-resolution profiling demonstrated two separate patterns of CNAs in ileal carcinoids. The majority of tumours showed loss of chromosome 18, which most likely represents a primary event in the development and pathogenesis of tumours. A different genetic pathway is operative in a subgroup of tumours; this is characterized by gain of chromosome 14 and is strongly associated with poor prognosis. Predictive fluorescence in situ hybridization analysis of chromosome 14 status in patients with ileal carcinoids is suggested.

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Per Bümming, Ola Nilsson, Håkan Ahlman, Anna Welbencer, Mattias K Andersson, Katarina Sjölund and Bengt Nilsson

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) are thought to originate from the interstitial cells of Cajal, which share many properties with neurons of the gastrointestinal tract. Recently, we demonstrated expression of the hormone ghrelin in GIST. The aim of the present study was therefore to evaluate a possible neuroendocrine phenotype of GIST. Specimens from 41 GISTs were examined for the expression of 12 different synaptic vesicle proteins. Expression of synaptic-like microvesicle proteins, e.g., Synaptic vesicle protein 2 (SV2), synaptobrevin, synapsin 1, and amphiphysin was demonstrated in a majority of GISTs by immunohistochemistry, western blotting, and quantitative reversetranscriptase PCR. One-third of the tumors also expressed the large dense core vesicle protein vesicular monoamine transporter 1. Presence of microvesicles and dense core vesicles in GIST was confirmed by electron microscopy. The expression of synaptic-like microvesicle proteins in GIST was not related to risk profile or to KIT/platelet derived growth factor alpha (PDGFRA) mutational status. Thus, GISTs regularly express a subset of synaptic-like microvesicle proteins necessary for the regulated secretion of neurotransmitters and hormones. Expression of synaptic-like micro-vesicle proteins, ghrelin and peptide hormone receptors in GIST indicate a neuroendocrine phenotype and suggest novel possibilities to treat therapy-resistant GIST.

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Sara Ekeblad, Bengt Nilsson, Margareta Halin Lejonklou, Térèse Johansson, Peter Stålberg, Ola Nilsson, Håkan Ahlman and Britt Skogseid

Expression of the neuroendocrine marker synaptic vesicle protein 2 (SV2) has been reported in a few cases of gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs). The goal of the present study was to assess the relevance of this finding and identify a possible hormone production in these tumors. We chose to study the orexigen ghrelin and its receptor, since these patients are seldom cachexic, even in advanced disease stages. We investigated ghrelin expression by means of immunohistochemistry on frozen or paraffin-embedded sections from 22 GISTs from a well-characterized patient material. Expression of the growth hormone secretagogue receptor, the ghrelin receptor, was investigated in a subset of lesions. In six tumors, mRNA levels of ghrelin, the ghrelin receptor, and SV2 were analyzed by real-time quantitative PCR. Totally 17 out of 22 tumors showed immunoreactivity for ghrelin. Five out of ten tumors were immunoreactive for the ghrelin receptor, and all of these co-expressed ghrelin. All tumors expressed ghrelin, ghrelin receptor, and SV2 mRNA. GISTs frequently express SV2, ghrelin, and its receptor, indicating the presence of autocrine/paracrine loops.

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Yvonne Arvidsson, Anders Bergström, Linda Arvidsson, Erik Kristiansson, Håkan Ahlman and Ola Nilsson

Tumour hypoxia is associated with increased metastatic potential and resistance to radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Ileal carcinoids are usually metastatic at the time of diagnosis and respond poorly to chemotherapy. The aim of this study was to investigate the extent of hypoxia in ileal carcinoids and the response of tumour cells to induced hypoxia. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), carbonic anhydrase (CA-IX), hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-1α and HIF-2α were studied by immunohistochemistry in biopsies from 24 patients with ileal carcinoids. All hypoxic markers were shown to be highly expressed in localized areas of the tumours irrespective of tumour location or stage. However, HIF-2α expression was significantly higher in distant metastases compared to primary tumours in the same patient. Global gene expression profiling of GOT1 carcinoid cells revealed a marked response to hypoxia. Expression of genes related to epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition and development was altered including increased expression of the C-X-C chemokine receptor type 4 (CXCR4), an important regulator of invasive growth and metastasis formation. High expression of CXCR4 was confirmed by immunohistochemistry in tumour biopsies. Stimulation of GOT1 cells by the CXCR4 ligand, CXCL12 (stromal cell-derived factor 1 (SDF-1)), activated the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) p42/44 signalling pathway and increased tumour cell migration. We conclude that ileal carcinoids contain hypoxic areas expressing HIF-1α, HIF-2α and CXCR4. Signalling through the CXCL12–CXCR4 axis may contribute to the metastatic potential of ileal carcinoids. Targeting of HIFs and/or the CXCR4 signalling pathway may offer new therapeutic strategies for carcinoid tumour disease.

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Yvonne Arvidsson, Ellinor Andersson, Anders Bergström, Mattias K Andersson, Gülay Altiparmak, Ann-Christin Illerskog, Håkan Ahlman, Darima Lamazhapova and Ola Nilsson

We have examined the global gene expression profile of small intestinal carcinoids by microarray analysis. High expression of a number of genes was found including amyloid precursor-like protein 1 (APLP1). Quantitative real-time PCR and western blot analysis demonstrated higher expression of APLP1 in carcinoid metastases relative to primary tumours indicating a role of APLP1 in tumour dissemination. Tissue microarray analysis of gastroentero-pancreatic tumours demonstrated a high frequency of APLP1 expression and a low frequency of APLP2 expression in neuroendocrine (NE) tumours when compared with non-NE tumours at the same sites. Meta-analysis of gene expression data from a large number of tumours outside the gastrointestinal tract confirmed a correlation between APLP1 expression and NE phenotype where high expression of APLP1 was accompanied by downregulation of APLP2 in NE tumours. Cellular localization of APLP1, APLP2 and amyloid precursor protein (APP) in carcinoid cells (GOT1) by confocal microscopy demonstrated partial co-localization with synaptophysin. This suggests that the APP family of proteins is transported to the cell membrane by synaptic microvesicles and that they may influence tumour cell adhesion and invasiveness. We conclude that APLP1 is differentially upregulated in gastrointestinal NE tumours and that APLP1 may be important for the dissemination of small intestinal carcinoids. Identification of APLP1 in NE tumours offers a novel target for treatment and may also serve as a tumour-specific marker.

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Tobias Hofving, Yvonne Arvidsson, Bilal Almobarak, Linda Inge, Roswitha Pfragner, Marta Persson, Göran Stenman, Erik Kristiansson, Viktor Johanson and Ola Nilsson

Open access

Tobias Hofving, Yvonne Arvidsson, Bilal Almobarak, Linda Inge, Roswitha Pfragner, Marta Persson, Göran Stenman, Erik Kristiansson, Viktor Johanson and Ola Nilsson

Experimental models of neuroendocrine tumour disease are scarce, and no comprehensive characterisation of existing gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumour (GEPNET) cell lines has been reported. In this study, we aimed to define the molecular characteristics and therapeutic sensitivity of these cell lines. We therefore performed immunophenotyping, copy number profiling, whole-exome sequencing and a large-scale inhibitor screening of seven GEPNET cell lines. Four cell lines, GOT1, P-STS, BON-1 and QGP-1, displayed a neuroendocrine phenotype while three others, KRJ-I, L-STS and H-STS, did not. Instead, these three cell lines were identified as lymphoblastoid. Characterisation of remaining authentic GEPNET cell lines by copy number profiling showed that GOT1, among other chromosomal alterations, harboured losses on chromosome 18 encompassing the SMAD4 gene, while P-STS had a loss on 11q. BON-1 had a homozygous loss of CDKN2A and CDKN2B, and QGP-1 harboured amplifications of MDM2 and HMGA2. Whole-exome sequencing revealed both disease-characteristic mutations (e.g. ATRX mutation in QGP-1) and, for patient tumours, rare genetic events (e.g. TP53 mutation in P-STS, BON-1 and QGP-1). A large-scale inhibitor screening showed that cell lines from pancreatic NETs to a greater extent, when compared to small intestinal NETs, were sensitive to inhibitors of MEK. Similarly, neuroendocrine NET cells originating from the small intestine were considerably more sensitive to a group of HDAC inhibitors. Taken together, our results provide a comprehensive characterisation of GEPNET cell lines, demonstrate their relevance as neuroendocrine tumour models and explore their therapeutic sensitivity to a broad range of inhibitors.

Open access

Nimrod B Kiss, Andreas Muth, Adam Andreasson, C Christofer Juhlin, Janos Geli, Martin Bäckdahl, Anders Höög, Bo Wängberg, Ola Nilsson, Håkan Ahlman and Catharina Larsson

Recurrent alterations in promoter methylation of tumor suppressor genes (TSGs) and LINE1 (L1RE1) repeat elements were previously reported in pheochromocytoma and abdominal paraganglioma. This study was undertaken to explore CpG methylation abnormalities in an extended tumor panel and assess possible relationships between metastatic disease and mutation status. CpG methylation was quantified by bisulfite pyrosequencing for selected TSG promoters and LINE1 repeats. Methylation indices above normal reference were observed for DCR2 (TNFRSF10D), CDH1, P16 (CDKN2A), RARB, and RASSF1A. Z-scores for overall TSG, and individual TSG methylation levels, but not LINE1, were significantly correlated with metastatic disease, paraganglioma, disease predisposition, or outcome. Most strikingly, P16 hypermethylation was strongly associated with SDHB mutation as opposed to RET/MEN2, VHL/VHL, or NF1-related disease. Parallel analyses of constitutional, tumor, and metastasis DNA implicate an order of events where constitutional SDHB mutations are followed by TSG hypermethylation and 1p loss in primary tumors, later transferred to metastatic tissue. In the combined material, P16 hypermethylation was prevalent in SDHB-mutated samples and was associated with short disease-related survival. The findings verify the previously reported importance of P16 and other TSG hypermethylation in an independent tumor series. Furthermore, a constitutional SDHB mutation is proposed to predispose for an epigenetic tumor phenotype occurring before the emanation of clinically recognized malignancy.

Free access

Viktor Johanson, Håkan Ahlman, Peter Bernhardt, Svante Jansson, Lars Kölby, Fredrik Persson, Göran Stenman, Christina Swärd, Bo Wängberg, Mats Stridsberg and Ola Nilsson

Hereditary medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) is caused by germline mutations in the RET proto-oncogene, resulting in constitutive activation of the RET tyrosine kinase. A substantial proportion of sporadic MTCs also have RET mutations, making the RET tyrosine kinase a potential therapeutic target in MTC. We have established a transplantable MTC in nude mice from a sporadic human MTC carrying a RET C634R mutation. Transplanted tumors had an exponential growth rate with an approximate doubling time of about 3 weeks, and expressed a neuroendocrine phenotype characteristic of MTC, e.g., expression of calcitonin, chromogranin A (CgA), synaptophysin, synaptic vesicle protein 2 (SV2), vesicular monoamine transporter-1 and -2, carcinoembryonic antigen, cytokeratin 8/18, epithelial cadherin, and neural cell adhesion molecule. Plasma calcitonin and CgA levels were elevated in tumor-bearing mice and correlated with tumor size. Cytogenetic analysis, including spectral karyotyping, confirmed the human origin of the xenografted tumors and demonstrated an abnormal, near triploid karyotype. Treatment of tumor-bearing nude mice with the tyrosine kinase inhibitor ZD6474, which specifically inhibits RET, epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), and vascular endothelium growth factor receptor (VEGFR) tyrosine kinases, resulted in a dose-dependent inhibition of tumor growth. Oral ZD6474 given once daily (250 mg/kg, 5 days/week) reduced tumor volume to 11% when compared with controls after 4 weeks. Our results show that this transplantable MTC, designated GOT2, represents a novel and useful model for studies of MTC and RET tyrosine kinase-dependent tumor growth.

Open access

Tobias Hofving, Viktor Sandblom, Yvonne Arvidsson, Emman Shubbar, Gülay Altiparmak, John Swanpalmer, Bilal Almobarak, Anna-Karin Elf, Viktor Johanson, Erik Elias, Erik Kristiansson, Eva Forssell-Aronsson and Ola Nilsson

177Lu-octreotate is an FDA-approved radionuclide therapy for patients with gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) expressing somatostatin receptors. The 177Lu-octreotate therapy has shown promising results in clinical trials by prolonging progression-free survival, but complete responses are still uncommon. The aim of this study was to improve the 177Lu-octreotate therapy by means of combination therapy. To identify radiosensitising inhibitors, two cell lines, GOT1 and P-STS, derived from small intestinal neuroendocrine tumours (SINETs), were screened with 1224 inhibitors alone or in combination with external radiation. The screening revealed that inhibitors of Hsp90 can potentiate the tumour cell-killing effect of radiation in a synergistic fashion (GOT1; false discovery rate <3.2 × 10−11). The potential for Hsp90 inhibitor ganetespib to enhance the anti-tumour effect of 177Lu-octreotate in an in vivo setting was studied in the somatostatin receptor-expressing GOT1 xenograft model. The combination led to a larger decrease in tumour volume relative to monotherapies and the tumour-reducing effect was shown to be synergistic. Using patient-derived tumour cells from eight metastatic SINETs, we could show that ganetespib enhanced the effect of 177Lu-octreotate therapy for all investigated patient tumours. Levels of Hsp90 protein expression were evaluated in 767 SINETs from 379 patients. We found that Hsp90 expression was upregulated in tumour cells relative to tumour stroma in the vast majority of SINETs. We conclude that Hsp90 inhibitors enhance the tumour-killing effect of 177Lu-octreotate therapy synergistically in SINET tumour models and suggest that this potentially promising combination should be further evaluated.