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Elena Rapizzi, Rossella Fucci, Elisa Giannoni, Letizia Canu, Susan Richter, Paolo Cirri and Massimo Mannelli

In solid tumors, neoplastic cells grow in contact with the so-called tumor microenvironment. The interaction between tumor cells and the microenvironment causes reciprocal metabolic reprogramming and favorable conditions for tumor growth and metastatic spread. To obtain an experimental model resembling the in vivo conditions of the succinate dehydrogenase B subunit (SDHB)-mutated paragangliomas (PGLs), we evaluated the effects of SDHB silencing on metabolism and proliferation in the human neuroblastoma cell line (SK-N-AS), cultured alone or in association with human fibroblasts. Silencing caused a 70% decrease in protein expression, an almost complete loss of the complex specific enzymatic activity, and a significant increase in HIF1α and HIF2α expression; it thus resembled the in vivo tumor cell phenotype. When compared with WT SK-N-AS cells, SDHB-silenced cells showed an altered metabolism characterized by an unexpected significant decrease in glucose uptake and an increase in lactate uptake. Moreover, silenced cells exhibited a significant increase in cell proliferation and metalloproteinase activity. When co-cultured with human fibroblasts, control cells displayed a significant decrease in glucose uptake and a significant increase in cell proliferation as compared with their mono-cultured counterparts. These effects were even more evident in co-cultured silenced cells, with a 70% decrease in glucose uptake and a 92% increase in cell proliferation as compared to their mono-cultured counterparts. The present data indicate for the first time, to our knowledge, that SDHB impairment causes metabolic and functional derangement of neural-crest-derived tumor cells and that the microenvironment, here represented by fibroblasts, strongly affects their tumor metabolism and growth capacity.

Free access

Vanessa D'Antongiovanni, Serena Martinelli, Susan Richter, Letizia Canu, Daniele Guasti, Tommaso Mello, Paolo Romagnoli, Karel Pacak, Graeme Eisenhofer, Massimo Mannelli and Elena Rapizzi

Pheochromocytomas (Pheos) and paragangliomas (PGLs) are neuroendocrine tumors. Approximately 30–40% of Pheos/PGLs are due to germline mutations in one of the susceptibility genes, including those encoding the succinate dehydrogenase subunits A-D (SDHA-D). Up to 2/3 of patients affected by SDHB mutated Pheo/PGL develop metastatic disease with no successful cure at present. Here, for the first time, we evaluated the effects of SDHB silencing in a three dimension (3D) culture using spheroids of a mouse Pheo cell line silenced or not (wild type/wt/control) for the SDHB subunit. We investigated the role of the microenvironment on spheroid growth and migration/invasion by co-culturing SDHB-silenced or wt spheroids with primary cancer-activated fibroblasts (CAFs). When spheroids were co-cultured with fibroblasts, SDHB-silenced cells showed a significant increase in matrigel invasion as demonstrated by the computation of the migratory areas (P < 0.001). Moreover, cells detaching from the SDHB-silenced spheroids moved collectively, unlike the cells of wt spheroids that moved individually. Additionally, SDHB-silenced spheroids developed long filamentous formations along which clusters of cells migrated far away from the spheroid, whereas these structures were not present in wt spheroids. We found that lactate, largely secreted by CAFs, plays a specific role in promoting migration only of SDHB-silenced cells. In this study, we demonstrated that SDHB silencing per se increases tumor cell migration/invasion and that microenvironment, as represented by CAFs, plays a pivotal role in enhancing collective migration/invasion in Pheo SDHB-silenced tumor cells, suggesting their role in increasing the tumor metastasizing potential.

Open access

Martin Ullrich, Josephine Liers, Mirko Peitzsch, Anja Feldmann, Ralf Bergmann, Ulrich Sommer, Susan Richter, Stefan R Bornstein, Michael Bachmann, Graeme Eisenhofer, Christian G Ziegler and Jens Pietzsch

Somatostatin receptor-targeting endoradiotherapy offers potential for treating metastatic pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas, an approach likely to benefit from combination radiosensitization therapy. To provide reliable preclinical in vivo models of metastatic disease, this study characterized the metastatic spread of luciferase-expressing mouse pheochromocytoma (MPC) cells in mouse strains with different immunologic conditions. Bioluminescence imaging showed that, in contrast to subcutaneous non-metastatic engraftment of luciferase-expressing MPC cells in NMRI-nude mice, intravenous cell injection provided only suboptimal metastatic spread in both NMRI-nude mice and hairless SCID (SHO) mice. Treatment of NMRI-nude mice with anti-Asialo GM1 serum enhanced metastatic spread due to substantial depletion of natural killer (NK) cells. However, reproducible metastatic spread was only observed in NK cell-defective SCID/beige mice and in hairless immunocompetent SKH1 mice bearing disseminated or liver metastases, respectively. Liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry of urine samples showed that subcutaneous and metastasized tumor models exhibit comparable renal monoamine excretion profiles characterized by increasing urinary dopamine, 3-methoxytyramine, norepinephrine and normetanephrine. Metastases-related epinephrine and metanephrine were only detectable in SCID/beige mice. Positron emission tomography and immunohistochemistry revealed that all metastases maintained somatostatin receptor-specific radiotracer uptake and immunoreactivity, respectively. In conclusion, we demonstrate that intravenous injection of luciferase-expressing MPC cells into SCID/beige and SKH1 mice provides reproducible and clinically relevant spread of catecholamine-producing and somatostatin receptor-positive metastases. These standardized preclinical models allow for precise monitoring of disease progression and should facilitate further investigations on theranostic approaches against metastatic pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas.