Pheochromocytomas (PCCs) are neuroendocrine tumors that occur in the adrenal medulla, whereas paragangliomas (PGLs) arise from paraganglia in the head, neck, thorax, or abdomen. In a variety of tumors, cancer cells with stem cell-like properties seem to form the basis of tumor initiation because of their ability to self-renew and proliferate. Specifically targeting this small cell population may lay the foundation for more effective therapeutic approaches. In the present study, we intended to identify stem cells in PCCs/PGLs.
We examined the immunohistochemical expression of 11 stem cell markers (SOX2, LIN28, NGFR, THY1, PREF1, SOX17, NESTIN, CD117, OCT3/4, NANOG, and CD133) on tissue microarrays containing 208 PCCs/PGLs with different genetic backgrounds from five European centers.
SOX2, LIN28, NGFR, and THY1 were expressed in more than 10% of tumors, and PREF1, SOX17, NESTIN, and CD117 were expressed in <10% of the samples. OCT3/4, NANOG, and CD133 were not detectable at all. Double staining for chromogranin A/SOX2 and S100/SOX2 demonstrated SOX2 immunopositivity in both tumor and adjacent sustentacular cells. The expression of SOX2, SOX17, NGFR, LIN28, PREF1, and THY1 was significantly associated with mutations in one of the succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) genes. In addition, NGFR expression was significantly correlated with metastatic disease.
Immunohistochemical expression of stem cell markers was found in a subset of PCCs/PGLs. Further studies are required to validate whether some stem cell-associated markers, such as SOX2, could serve as targets for therapeutic approaches and whether NGFR expression could be utilized as a predictor of malignancy.