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M Mannelli, L Ianni, A Cilotti and A Conti

OBJECTIVE: To conduct an epidemiological study on pheochromocytoma in Italy. METHODS: Data on 284 patients with pheochromocytoma observed between 1978 and 1997 were collected from 18 Italian centers through a questionnaire reporting epidemiological, clinical, laboratory, radiological and surgical data. RESULTS: 53.6% of the patients were females and 46.4% were males. Thirty-two tumors were discovered as incidental adrenal masses. The most frequent referred symptoms were palpitations (58.1%), headache (51.9%), sweating (48. 8%) and anxiety (35.3%). Their association was present only in 15.5% of patients. Paroxysmal symptoms were reported in 67.1% and hypertensive crises in 59.7% of patients. Normal blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) was present both in the supine and upright positions in 21.1% of patients. Among laboratory assays, urinary vanylmandelic acid (VMA) was the most widely used (58.1%) and was the least sensitive (25% of false negative results). Basal plasma catecholamines were found to be normal in 11.3% of patients but were always elevated when sampled during a hypertensive paroxysm. A clonidine suppression test was performed in 38 patients with no adverse side effects. It gave a false negative response in 2 patients. A glucagon test was performed in 21 patients. It was interrupted for acute hypertension in 52.4% of patients. Only 5/21 patients were normotensive and had normal basal plasma catecholamines. In these patients the test gave a positive response in four (80%). CT (79.6%) and I-MIBG scintigraphy (68.5%) were the most widely used methods for tumor localization. CT sensitivity was 98.9% for intra-adrenal and 90.9% for extra-adrenal tumors. MIBG sensitivity was 88.5%. In the 263 patients who underwent surgery, the tumor was intra-adrenal in 89.4%, extra-adrenal in 8.5%, intra- and extra-adrenal in 2.1%, and bilateral in 11.0% of patients. Malignancy was reported in 9.9% of cases. Surgery caused remission of hypertension in 59.3%, improvement in 26.8%, and no changes in 13. 9% of patients. In the last group the interval between initial symptoms and diagnosis was significantly longer. CONCLUSIONS: The present study confirms that the clinical presentation of pheochromocytoma is variable and aspecific. Normotension is often present and often the tumor is discovered incidentally. An indication for the routine use of screening methods more sensitive than urinary VMA is strongly suggested. The clonidine test was found to be safe and should be preferred to the glucagon test which has to be restricted to very selected patients. CT and MIBG scintigraphy are almost always successful in localizing the tumor. Reversal of hypertension by surgery seems to depend on an early diagnosis.

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A Peri, D Bemporad, G Parenti, P Luciani, M Serio and M Mannelli

OBJECTIVES: In about 15-20% of patients with ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome the source of ACTH is outside the pituitary gland. Pulmonary tumours are the most frequent, yet not unique, source of ectopic ACTH. In some instances the localisation of an ACTH-secreting tumour may be problematic. Occult ectopic ACTH secretion indicates the occurrence of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism with an unknown origin. Another peculiarity of Cushing's syndrome may reside in the episodic cortisol hypersecretion, which can determine a pattern characterised by hypercortisolism together with periods of remission (cyclic Cushing's syndrome). We describe a very challenging case of Cushing's syndrome due to ectopic ACTH hypersecretion, showing virtually all of the most unusual features of the disease. DESIGN: A 55-year-old woman affected by Cushing's syndrome, presenting with biochemical features of ectopic ACTH secretion, has been followed for 7 years. METHODS: Thorough basal and dynamic hormonal assessment through the past 7 years is reported. In addition, the results of extensive imaging studies are presented. RESULTS: The source of ACTH secretion has not been identified so far, and hypercortisolism has been controlled by octreotide treatment. In addition, the patient showed a cyclic pattern of hypercortisolism with a long-term remission period. A unique feature of this case is represented by the fact that we observed a temporary, yet dramatic, short-lasting remission of ACTH and cortisol hypersecretion during a pulmonary infection, which occurred while the patient was hospitalised for a periodic hormonal assessment. CONCLUSIONS: This case well represents the wide spectrum of clinical variability of Cushing's syndrome. Most interestingly, to our knowledge, this is the first report of a case of Cushing's syndrome showing a remission during an acute infection.

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L Oudijk, C M Neuhofer, U D Lichtenauer, T G Papathomas, E Korpershoek, H Stoop, J W Oosterhuis, M Smid, D F Restuccia, M Robledo, A A de Cubas, M Mannelli, A P Gimenez-Roqueplo, W N M Dinjens, F Beuschlein and R R de Krijger

Objective

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.

Design

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.

Results

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.

Conclusion

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.