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Esther Korpershoek, Claudia K Stobbe, Francien H van Nederveen, Ronald R de Krijger, and Winand N M Dinjens

Pheochromocytomas (PCCs) and extra-adrenal sympathetic paragangliomas (sPGLs) are catecholamine-producing tumors occurring in the context of hereditary tumor syndromes, with known germline mutations, and as sporadic tumors. The pathogenesis of sporadic PCC and sPGL is poorly understood, and little is known about intra-tumoral heterogeneity with respect to molecular aberrations. Since knowledge on intra-tumoral heterogeneity is important for understanding the pathogenesis of these tumors, we investigated 12 benign and 8 malignant PCCs and sPGLs for loss of heterozygosity (LOH) on DNA extracted from different regions of each tumor and from metastases. LOH markers were selected on chromosomal regions frequently deleted in PCC, including 1p, 3q, 3p, and 11p. Benign tumors were found to have less intra-tumoral heterogeneity (overall 8%) than malignant tumors (overall 23%), with the highest frequencies for chromosome 1p36 in the benign tumors (17%) and 1p13 and 3q24 in malignant tumors (both 38%). In addition, differences in LOH patterns were detected between paired primary malignant tumors, and their metastases and different LOH patterns were observed in bilateral PCC of a multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 patient. We demonstrate that malignant PCC and sPGL have more intra-tumoral molecular heterogeneity than benign tumors, which suggests that benign and malignant PCC and sPGL have a different pathogenesis.

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Francien H van Nederveen, Esther Korpershoek, Ronald J deLeeuw, Albert A Verhofstad, Jacques W Lenders, Winand N M Dinjens, Wan L Lam, and Ronald R de Krijger

Pheochromocytomas (PCC) are catecholamine-producing tumors arising from the adrenal medulla that occur either sporadically or in the context of hereditary cancer syndromes, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2), von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL), neurofibromatosis type 1, and the PCC-paraganglioma syndrome. Conventional comparative genomic hybridization studies have shown loss of 1p and 3q in the majority of sporadic and MEN2-related PCC, and 3p and 11p loss in VHL-related PCC. The development of a submegabase tiling resolution array enabled us to perform a genome-wide high-resolution analysis of 36 sporadic benign PCC. The results show that there are two distinct patterns of abnormalities in these sporadic PCC, one consisting of loss of 1p with or without concomitant 3q loss in 20/36 cases (56%), the other characterized by loss of 3p with or without concomitant 11p loss in 11/36 (31%). In addition, we found loss of chromosome 22q at high frequency (35%), as well as the novel finding of high frequency chromosome 21q loss (21%). We conclude that there appear to be two subgroups of benign sporadic PCC, one of which has a pattern of chromosomal abnormalities that is comparable with PCC from patients with MEN2 and the other that is comparable with the PCC that arise in patients with VHL disease. In addition, genes on 21q and 22q might play a more important role in PCC pathogenesis than had been assumed thus far.

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Esther Korpershoek, Nanne K Kloosterhof, Angelique Ziel-van der Made, Hanneke Korsten, Lindsey Oudijk, Jan Trapman, Winand N M Dinjens, and Ronald R de Krijger

Phaeochromocytomas (PCCs) are benign neuroendocrine tumours of the adrenal medulla. Approximately 10% of PCC patients develop metastases, but this frequency is much higher in specific subtypes of patients. The reliable diagnosis of malignant PCC can only be made after identification of a metastasis. To study the effect of Trp53 inactivation on PCC pathogenesis in Pten KO mice, we investigated the adrenals of a large cohort of mice with conditional monoallelic and biallelic inactivation of Trp53 and Pten. The adrenal weights were determined for all mice, and in a proportion of these mice, immunohistochemistry for tyrosine hydroxylase and dopamine β-hydroxylase was performed on the adrenals and corresponding lungs. Finally, comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) was performed. The histological and immunohistochemical results confirmed that the adrenal tumours were PCCs. Inactivation of one or both alleles of Trp53 resulted in earlier tumour occurrence in the Pten loxP/loxP mice as well as in the Pten loxP/+ mice. In addition, lung metastases were found in up to 67% of mice. The CGH results showed that the most frequent genomic alterations were loss of chromosome 19 (86%) and gain of chromosome 15 (71%). In this study, we have shown that Pten/Trp53 KO mice showed metastatic PCC at high frequency and primary tumours occurred at younger ages in mice with Trp53 inactivation. Therefore, the present model appears to be a suitable model that might allow the preclinical study of new therapeutics for these tumours.

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Esther Korpershoek, Bart-Jeroen Petri, Francien H van Nederveen, Winand N M Dinjens, Albert A Verhofstad, Wouter W de Herder, Sonja Schmid, Aurel Perren, Paul Komminoth, and Ronald R de Krijger

Pheochromocytomas (PCCs) are rare tumors that arise from chromaffin tissue in the adrenal medulla, but can also occur in the abdomen outside the adrenals and are then called sympathetic paragangliomas (sPGLs). According to the literature, between 15 and 25% of apparently sporadic adrenal PCC and sPGL are caused by germline mutations in RET, von Hippel–Lindau disease (VHL), succinate dehydrogenase subunit B (SDHB), or subunit D SDHD. However, few studies have addressed the mutationfrequency of these candidate genes in selected subgroups of PCC andsPGL, such as bilateral adrenal PCC or extra-adrenal sPGL, and none have looked at somatic mutations by analyzing tumor tissue. Therefore, we have investigated the occurrence of germline and somatic mutations in RET, VHL, SDHB, and SDHD in comparatively large series of bilateral adrenal PCC (n = 33 patients) and sPGL (n = 26 patients), with the aim of determining the mutation frequency of each of these genes and to establish a genetic testing algorithm. Twenty-one RET, two VHL germline, and one SDHD mutations were found in the patients with bilateral adrenal PCC. In sPGL, one novel SDHB germline and one novel SDHB somatic mutation were observed. In addition, two SDHD germline mutations were found. We conclude that germline RET mutations are predominantly found in bilateral PCC, and that somatic and germline SDHB and SDHD mutations usually occur in sPGL, which has practical consequences for genetic testing algorithms. We suggest that sequential mutation analysis should be directed first at RET, followed by VHL and SDHD for patients with bilateral adrenal PCC at diagnosis, and at SDHB and SDHD for patients with sPGL.

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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, 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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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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Graeme Eisenhofer, Stefan R Bornstein, Frederieke M Brouwers, Nai-Kong V Cheung, Patricia L Dahia, Ronald R de Krijger, Thomas J Giordano, Lloyd A Greene, David S Goldstein, Hendrik Lehnert, William M Manger, John M Maris, Hartmut P H Neumann, Karel Pacak, Barry L Shulkin, David I Smith, Arthur S Tischler, and William F Young Jr

Pheochromocytomas are rare catecholamine-producing neuroendocrine tumors that are usually benign, but which may also present as or develop into a malignancy. Predicting such behavior is notoriously difficult and there are currently no curative treatments for malignant tumors. This report follows from a workshop at the Banbury Conference Center, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, on the 16th–18th November 2003, held to review the state of science and to facilitate future progress in the diagnosis and treatment of malignant pheochromocytoma. The rarity of the tumor and the resulting fragmented nature of studies, typically involving small numbers of patients, represent limiting factors to the development of effective treatments and diagnostic or prognostic markers for malignant disease. Such development is being facilitated by the availability of new genomics-based tools, but for such approaches to succeed ultimately requires comprehensive clinical studies involving large numbers of patients, stringently collected clinical data and tumor samples, and interdisciplinary collaborations among multiple specialist centers. Nevertheless, the well-characterized hereditary basis and the unique functional nature of these neuroendocrine tumors provide a useful framework that offers advantages for establishing the pathways of tumorigenesis and malignancy. Such findings may have relevance for understanding the basis of other more common malignancies where similar frameworks are not available. As the relevant pathways leading to pheochromocytoma are established it should be possible to take advantage of the new generation of drugs being developed to target specific pathways in other malignancies. Again the success of this will require well-designed and coordinated multicenter studies.