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Takako Araki, Ning-Ai Liu, Yukiko Tone, Daniel Cuevas-Ramos, Roy Heltsley, Masahide Tone, and Shlomo Melmed

Cushing’s syndrome is caused by excessive adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) secretion derived from pituitary corticotroph tumors (Cushing disease) or from non-pituitary tumors (ectopic Cushing’s syndrome). Hypercortisolemic features of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome are severe, and no definitive treatment for paraneoplastic ACTH excess is available. We aimed to identify subcellular therapeutic targets by elucidating transcriptional regulation of the human ACTH precursor POMC (proopiomelanocortin) and ACTH production in non-pituitary tumor cells and in cell lines derived from patients with ectopic Cushing’s syndrome. We show that ectopic hPOMC transcription proceeds independently of pituitary-specific Tpit/Pitx1 and demonstrate a novel E2F1-mediated transcriptional mechanism regulating hPOMC. We identify an E2F1 cluster binding to the proximal hPOMC promoter region (−42 to +68), with DNA-binding activity determined by the phosphorylation at Ser-337. hPOMC mRNA expression in cancer cells was upregulated (up to 40-fold) by the co-expression of E2F1 and its heterodimer partner DP1. Direct and indirect inhibitors of E2F1 activity suppressed hPOMC gene expression and ACTH by modifying E2F1 DNA-binding activity in ectopic Cushing’s cell lines and primary tumor cells, and also suppressed paraneoplastic ACTH and cortisol levels in xenografted mice. E2F1-mediated hPOMC transcription is a potential target for suppressing ACTH production in ectopic Cushing’s syndrome.

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Cuiqi Zhou, Yunguang Tong, Kolja Wawrowsky, Serguei Bannykh, Ines Donangelo, and Shlomo Melmed

As human pituitary tumor transforming gene (hPTTG1) is upregulated in endocrine tumors, we studied regulatory mechanisms for hPTTG1 expression. We identified Oct-1-binding motifs in the hPTTG1 promoter region and show Oct-1-specific binding to the hPTTG1 promoter using chromatin immunoprecipitation. We overexpressed Oct-1 and observed ∼2.5-fold activation of hPTTG1 promoter luciferase constructs (−2642/−1 and −1717/−1). Transcriptional activation was abrogated by co-transfection of an inactive Oct-1 form lacking the POU domain or by utilizing mutated hPTTG1 promoters or mutants devoid of two Oct-1-binding motifs (−1717/−1mut, −637/−1 or −433/−1). Using biotin–streptavidin pull-down assays, we confirmed Oct-1 binding to the two octamer motifs in the hPTTG1 promoter (−1669/−1631 and −1401/−1361). Endogenous hPTTG1 mRNA and protein increased up to approximately fourfold in Oct-1 transfectants, as measured by real-time PCR and western blot. In contrast, siRNA-mediated suppression of endogenous Oct-1 attenuated both the hPTTG1 mRNA and protein levels. Using confocal immunofluorescence imaging, Oct-1 and hPTTG1 were concordantly upregulated in pituitary (57 and 62%, n=79, P<0.01) and breast tumor specimens (57 and 42%, n=77, P<0.05) respectively. The results show that Oct-1 transactivates hPTTG1, and both proteins are concordantly overexpressed in endocrine tumors, thus offering a mechanism for endocrine tumor hPTTG1 abundance.

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Odelia Cooper, George Vlotides, Hidenori Fukuoka, Mark I Greene, and Shlomo Melmed

The role of ErbB family in discreet pituitary functions is reviewed. Several ErbB receptor ligands, EGF, TGFα, and heregulin are differentially expressed in normal gonadotroph and lacto-somatotroph lineages, and other elements of the anterior pituitary. ErbB receptors, i.e. EGFR and ErbB2, are also localized to the anterior pituitary with preferential EGFR lactosomatotroph expression. EGF regulates CRH and ACTH secretion and corticotroph proliferation as well as exhibiting autocrine and paracrine effects on gonadotrophs and on lactosomatotroph proliferation, gene and protein expression, and hormonal secretion. EGF and EGFR are expressed in both functioning and non-functioning pituitary adenomas, with higher expression in more aggressive tumor subtypes. ErbB2 receptor is detected in all tumor subtypes, particularly in invasive tumors. ErbB tyrosine kinase inhibitors regulate hormonal secretion, cell morphology, and proliferation in lacto-somatotroph tumors, reflecting the emerging application of targeted pituitary therapeutics.

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Ines Donangelo, Song-Guang Ren, Tamar Eigler, Clive Svendsen, and Shlomo Melmed

The role of tumor stem cells in benign tumors such as pituitary adenomas remains unclear. In this study, we investigated whether the cells within pituitary adenomas that spontaneously develop in Rb + /− mice are hierarchically distributed with a subset being responsible for tumor growth. Cells derived directly from such tumors grew as spheres in serum-free culture medium supplemented with epidermal growth factor and basic fibroblast growth factor. Some cells within growing pituitary tumor spheres (PTS) expressed common stem cell markers (Sca1, Sox2, Nestin, and CD133), but were devoid of hormone-positive differentiated cells. Under subsequent differentiating conditions (matrigel-coated growth surface), PTS expressed all six pituitary hormones. We next searched for specific markers of the stem cell population and isolated a Sca1+ cell population that showed increased sphere formation potential, lower mRNA hormone expression, higher expression of stem cell markers (Notch1, Sox2, and Nestin), and increased proliferation rates. When transplanted into non-obese diabetic-severe combined immunodeficiency gamma mice brains, Sca1+ pituitary tumor cells exhibited higher rates of tumor formation (brain tumors observed in 11/11 (100%) vs 7/12 (54%) of mice transplanted with Sca1+ and Sca1 cells respectively). Magnetic resonance imaging and histological analysis of brain tumors showed that tumors derived from Sca1+ pituitary tumor cells were also larger and plurihormonal. Our findings show that Sca1+ cells derived from benign pituitary tumors exhibit an undifferentiated expression profile and tumor-proliferative advantages, and we propose that they could represent putative pituitary tumor stem/progenitor cells.