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Davide Calebiro, Guido Di Dalmazi, Kerstin Bathon, Cristina L Ronchi and Felix Beuschlein

The cAMP signaling pathway is one of the major players in the regulation of growth and hormonal secretion in adrenocortical cells. Although its role in the pathogenesis of adrenocortical hyperplasia associated with Cushing's syndrome has been clarified, a clear involvement of the cAMP signaling pathway and of one of its major downstream effectors, the protein kinase A (PKA), in sporadic adrenocortical adenomas remained elusive until recently. During the last year, a report by our group and three additional independent groups showed that somatic mutations of PRKACA, the gene coding for the catalytic subunit α of PKA, are a common genetic alteration in patients with Cushing's syndrome due to adrenal adenomas, occurring in 35–65% of the patients. In vitro studies revealed that those mutations are able to disrupt the association between catalytic and regulatory subunits of PKA, leading to a cAMP-independent activity of the enzyme. Despite somatic PRKACA mutations being a common finding in patients with clinically manifest Cushing's syndrome, the pathogenesis of adrenocortical adenomas associated with subclinical hypercortisolism seems to rely on a different molecular background. In this review, the role of cAMP/PKA signaling in the regulation of adrenocortical cell function and its alterations in cortisol-producing adrenocortical adenomas will be summarized, with particular focus on recent developments.

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Cristina L Ronchi, Matthias Kroiss, Silviu Sbiera, Timo Deutschbein and Martin Fassnacht

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is not only a rare and heterogeneous disease but also one of the most aggressive endocrine tumors. Despite significant advances in the last decade, its pathogenesis is still only incompletely understood and overall therapeutic means are unsatisfactory. Herein, we provide our personal view of the currently available treatment options and suggest the following research efforts that we consider timely and necessary to improve therapy: i) for better outcome in localized ACCs, surgery should be restricted to experienced centers, which should then collaborate closely to address the key surgical questions (e.g. best approach and extent of surgery) in a multicenter manner. ii) For the development of better systemic therapies, it is crucial to elucidate the exact molecular mechanisms of action of mitotane. iii) A prospective trial is needed to address the role of cytotoxic drugs in the adjuvant setting in aggressive ACCs (e.g. mitotane vs mitotane+cisplatin). iv) For metastatic ACCs, new regimens should be investigated as first-line therapy. v) Several other issues (e.g. the role of radiotherapy and salvage therapies) might be answered – at least in a first step – by large retrospective multicenter studies. In conclusion, although it is unrealistic to expect that the majority of ACCs can be cured within the next decade, international collaborative efforts (including multiple translational and clinical studies) should allow significant improvement of clinical outcome of this disease. To this end, it might be reasonable to expand the European Network for the Study of Adrenal Tumors (ENSAT) to a truly worldwide international network – INSAT.

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Cristina L Ronchi, Elisa Verrua, Emanuele Ferrante, Gwendolyn Bender, Elisa Sala, Andrea G Lania, Martin Fassnacht, Paolo Beck-Peccoz, Bruno Allolio, Anna Spada and Maura Arosio

Objective

Radiation therapy (RT) is a useful adjuvant tool for acromegalic patients not cured by surgery and/or not responding to pharmacotherapy. However, its specific effects on cardio- and cerebrovascular morbidity are still on debate.

Design

Retrospective analysis of 42 acromegalic patients cured after conventional radiotherapy (CRT, n=31) or radiosurgery by gamma-knife (GKRS, n=11) followed for a median period of 16.5 years (range: 2–40). Totally, 56 patients cured by surgery alone, with similar GH/IGF1 levels and duration of disease remission, served as control group.

Methods

Changes in cardiovascular risk factors, such as body mass index, glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, blood pressure, and lipid profile (pre-defined primary end point) and occurrence of new major cardio- and cerebrovascular events (secondary end point) during follow-up.

Results

The number of obese, hypertensive, and dyslipidemic subjects increased over time only in patients cured with RT. In contrast, the glucose response to the oral glucose tolerance test and the percentage of subjects with glucose alterations improved only in controls. As expected, the percentage of patients with pituitary failure was deeply higher among RT patients than among controls (86 vs 30%, P<0.0005). Despite these findings, a similar number of RT patients and controls developed major cardio- or cerebrovascular events (4/42 vs 3/56, P: NS). No differences were found between CRT and GKRS subgroups.

Conclusions

Previous RT seems to be associated with a worse metabolic profile in acromegalic patients studied after a long-term follow-up. Nevertheless, a direct link between RT and cardiovascular events remains to be proven.

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Valeria Laufs, Barbara Altieri, Silviu Sbiera, Stefan Kircher, Sonja Steinhauer, Felix Beuschlein, Marcus Quinkler, Holger S Willenberg, Andreas Rosenwald, Martin Fassnacht and Cristina L Ronchi

Objective

Platinum-based chemotherapy (PBC) is the most effective cytotoxic treatment for advanced adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC). Excision repair cross complementing group 1 (ERCC1) plays a critical role in the repair of platinum-induced DNA damage. Two studies investigating the role of ERCC1 immunostaining as a predictive marker for the response to PBC in ACC had reported conflicting results. Both studies used the ERCC1-antibody clone 8F1 that later turned out to be not specific. The aim of this study was to evaluate the predictive role of ERCC1 with a new specific antibody in a larger series of ACC.

Design and methods

146 ACC patients with available FFPE slides were investigated. All patients underwent PBC (median cycles = 6), including cisplatin (n = 131) or carboplatin (n = 15), in most cases combined with etoposide (n = 144), doxorubicin (n = 131) and mitotane (n = 131). Immunostaining was performed with the novel ERCC1-antibody clone 4F9. The relationship between ERCC1 expression and clinicopathological parameters, as well as best objective response to therapy and progression-free survival (PFS) during PBC was evaluated.

Results

High ERCC1 expression was observed in 66% of ACC samples. During PBC, 43 patients experienced objective response (29.5%), 49 stable disease (33.6%), 8 mixed response (5.5%) and 46 progressive disease (31.5%) without any relationship with the ERCC1 immunostaining. No significant correlation was also found between ERCC1 expression and progression-free survival (median 6.5 vs 6 months, P=0.33, HR = 1.23, 95% CI = 0.82–2.0).

Conclusion

ERCC1 expression is not directly associated with sensitivity to PBC in ACC. Thus, other predictive biomarkers are required to support treatment decisions in patients with ACC.

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Cristina L Ronchi, Erica Rizzo, Andrea G Lania, Rosario Pivonello, Silvia Grottoli, Annamaria Colao, Ezio Ghigo, Anna Spada, Maura Arosio and Paolo Beck-Peccoz

Objective

It is still unknown whether prolonged treatment with somatostatin analogs (SSTa) may cause a long-lasting disease remission in GH-secreting adenomas after drug discontinuation. The aim of the present study was to investigate the evolution of GH/IGF-I secretion and tumor mass after SSTa withdrawal in patients affected by acromegaly.

Patients and Design

A total of 27 patients with acromegaly (12 de novo and 15 previously operated) were treated with SSTa for a median period of 48 months and considered optimally controlled in hormonal and neuroradiological terms. None of them were previously irradiated.

Methods

Basal GH, post-glucose GH nadir, IGF-I, clinical signs/symptoms, and metabolic parameters were evaluated after 12–16 weeks from drug withdrawal. Only patients who met the current criteria for disease remission remained in drug suspension being periodically re-evaluated for biochemical/clinical data and neuroradiological imaging.

Results

After 12–16 weeks withdrawal, 15 of the 27 patients had disease relapse and restarted SSTa, while 12 were considered ‘in disease remission’ (44% of total). Glucose metabolism improved in both euglycemic and diabetic patients after short-term SSTa discontinuation. Only one of the ten patients who reached 24 weeks withdrawal showed biochemical disease recurrence. On the whole, five of the patients still in remission after 6 months have already prolonged the follow-up over 12 months (median: 24 months), without clinical and biochemical/neuroradiological evidence of disease recurrence.

Conclusions

These preliminary data indicate a successful withdrawal of SSTa at least in a subset of well-responsive patients with acromegaly and challenge the previously held concept that medical therapy is always a lifelong requirement.

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Britta Heinze, Leonie J M Herrmann, Martin Fassnacht, Cristina L Ronchi, Holger S Willenberg, Marcus Quinkler, Nicole Reisch, Martina Zink, Bruno Allolio and Stefanie Hahner

Context

The Li–Fraumeni tumor syndrome is strongly associated with adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) and is caused by germline mutations in TP53 in 70% of cases. Also, TP53 polymorphisms have been shown to influence both cancer risk and clinical outcome in several tumor entities. We, therefore, investigated TP53 polymorphisms in a cohort of adult patients with ACC.

Objective

Evaluation of the role of TP53 polymorphisms in adult patients with ACC.

Subjects and methods

Peripheral blood for DNA extraction was collected from 72 ACC patients. Polymorphism analysis was carried out by amplification and sequencing of exons and adjacent intron sections of TP53. Results were correlated with clinical data and the distribution of the polymorphisms was compared with published Caucasian control groups.

Results

Compared with control groups, genotype frequencies of analyzed TP53 polymorphisms among ACC patients were significantly different in three out of four polymorphisms: IVS2+38G>C (G/G, P=0.0248), IVS3ins16 (NoIns/NoIns, P<0.0001; NoIns/Ins, P<0.0001), and IVS6+62A>G (G/G, P<0.0001; G/A, P<0.0001). Overall, the survival of ACC patients, which harbored at least one of the less frequent genotype variants of four analyzed polymorphisms (n=23), was significantly inferior (median survival: 81.0 months in patients with the common homozygous genotypes vs 20.0 months in patients with the less frequent genotypes, HR 2.56, 95% CI 1.66–7.07; P=0.001). These results were confirmed by multivariable regression analysis (HR 2.84, 95% CI 1.52–7.17; P=0.037).

Conclusion

Some TP53 polymorphisms seem to influence overall survival in ACC patients. This effect was observed for a combination of polymorphic changes rather than for single polymorphisms.

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Matthias Kroiss, Dietmar Plonné, Sabine Kendl, Diana Schirmer, Cristina L Ronchi, Andreas Schirbel, Martina Zink, Constantin Lapa, Hartwig Klinker, Martin Fassnacht, Werner Heinz and Silviu Sbiera

Objective

Oral mitotane (o,p′-DDD) is a cornerstone of medical treatment for adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC).

Aim

Serum mitotane concentrations >14 mg/l are targeted for improved efficacy but not achieved in about half of patients. Here we aimed at a better understanding of intestinal absorption and lipoprotein association of mitotane and metabolites o,p′-dichlorodiphenylacetic acid (o,p′-DDA) and o,p′-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethane (o,p′-DDE).

Design

Lipoproteins were isolated by ultracentrifugation from the chyle of a 29-year-old patient and serum from additional 14 ACC patients treated with mitotane. HPLC was applied for quantification of mitotane and metabolites. We assessed NCI–H295 cell viability, cortisol production, and expression of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress marker genes to study the functional consequences of mitotane binding to lipoproteins.

Results

Chyle of the index patient contained 197 mg/ml mitotane, 53 mg/ml o,p′-DDA, and 51 mg/l o,p′-DDE. Of the total mitotane in serum, lipoprotein fractions contained 21.7±21.4% (VLDL), 1.9±0.8% (IDL), 8.9±5.5% (LDL1), 18.9±9.6% (LDL2), 10.1±4.0% (LDL3), and 26.3±13.0% (HDL2). Only 12.3±5.5% were in the lipoprotein-depleted fraction.

Discussion

Mitotane content of lipoproteins directly correlated with their triglyceride and cholesterol content. O,p′-DDE was similarly distributed, but 87.9±4.2% of o,p′-DDA found in the HDL2 and lipoprotein-depleted fractions. Binding of mitotane to human lipoproteins blunted its anti-proliferative and anti-hormonal effects on NCI–H295 cells and reduced ER stress marker gene expression.

Conclusion

Mitotane absorption involves chylomicron binding. High concentrations of o,p′-DDA and o,p′-DDE in chyle suggest intestinal mitotane metabolism. In serum, the majority of mitotane is bound to lipoproteins. In vitro, lipoprotein binding inhibits activity of mitotane suggesting that lipoprotein-free mitotane is the therapeutically active fraction.

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Claudia Giavoli, Emanuele Ferrante, Eriselda Profka, Luca Olgiati, Silvia Bergamaschi, Cristina L Ronchi, Elisa Verrua, Marcello Filopanti, Elena Passeri, Laura Montefusco, Andrea G Lania, Sabrina Corbetta, Maura Arosio, Bruno Ambrosi, Anna Spada and Paolo Beck-Peccoz

Objective

A common polymorphic variant of GH receptor (exon 3 deletion, d3GHR) has been linked with increased response to recombinant human GH (rhGH) in some patients with or without GH deficiency (GHD). The aim of the study was to investigate the impact of the GHR genotype on the phenotype of GHD adults and on the metabolic effect of rhGH therapy.

Design

Prospective study of GHD patients evaluated before and during short- (1 year, n=100) and long-term (5 years, n=50) rhGH therapy.

Methods

Effects of rhGH on IGF1 levels, body composition (body fat percentage, BF%), body mass index, lipid profile, and glucose homeostasis (fasting insulin and glucose, insulin sensitivity indexes) were evaluated according to the presence or the absence of the d3GHR variant.

Results

The different genotype did not influence basal phenotype of GHD. Short-term rhGH determined normalization of IGF1 levels, decrease in BF%, and worsening of insulin sensitivity, independently from the presence of the d3GHR allele. A significant increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol occurred in the d3GHR group. Normalization of IGF1 levels and decrease in BF% were maintained after 5 years. Insulin sensitivity restored to basal values, though in d3GHR patients fasting glucose remained significantly higher than at baseline. After both 1 and 5 years, percentage of subjects with impaired glucose tolerance, similar in the two groups at baseline, decreased in fl/fl while doubled in d3GHR patients. In this last group, a long-term significant reduction in total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol was also observed.

Conclusion

The functional difference of d3GHR may influence some metabolic effects of rhGH on GHD adults.

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Cristina L Ronchi, Erika Peverelli, Sabine Herterich, Isabel Weigand, Giovanna Mantovani, Thomas Schwarzmayr, Silviu Sbiera, Bruno Allolio, Jürgen Honegger, Silke Appenzeller, Andrea G Lania, Martin Reincke, Davide Calebiro, Anna Spada, Michael Buchfelder, Joerg Flitsch, Tim M Strom and Martin Fassnacht

Context

Alterations in the cAMP signaling pathway are common in hormonally active endocrine tumors. Somatic mutations at GNAS are causative in 30–40% of GH-secreting adenomas. Recently, mutations affecting the USP8 and PRKACA gene have been reported in ACTH-secreting pituitary adenomas and cortisol-secreting adrenocortical adenomas respectively. However, the pathogenesis of many GH-secreting adenomas remains unclear.

Aim

Comprehensive genetic characterization of sporadic GH-secreting adenomas and identification of new driver mutations.

Design

Screening for somatic mutations was performed in 67 GH-secreting adenomas by targeted sequencing for GNAS, PRKACA, and USP8 mutations (n=31) and next-generation exome sequencing (n=36).

Results

By targeted sequencing, known activating mutations in GNAS were detected in five cases (16.1%), while no somatic mutations were observed in both PRKACA and USP8. Whole-exome sequencing identified 132 protein-altering somatic mutations in 31/36 tumors with a median of three mutations per sample (range: 1–13). The only recurrent mutations have been observed in GNAS (31.4% of cases). However, seven genes involved in cAMP signaling pathway were affected in 14 of 36 samples and eight samples harbored variants in genes involved in the calcium signaling or metabolism. At the enrichment analysis, several altered genes resulted to be associated with developmental processes. No significant correlation between genetic alterations and the clinical data was observed.

Conclusion

This study provides a comprehensive analysis of somatic mutations in a large series of GH-secreting adenomas. No novel recurrent genetic alterations have been observed, but the data suggest that beside cAMP pathway, calcium signaling might be involved in the pathogenesis of these tumors.