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Free access

Sara Pepe, Márta Korbonits and Donato Iacovazzo

While 95% of pituitary adenomas arise sporadically without a known inheritable predisposing mutation, in about 5% of the cases they can arise in a familial setting, either isolated (familial isolated pituitary adenoma or FIPA) or as part of a syndrome. FIPA is caused, in 15–30% of all kindreds, by inactivating mutations in the AIP gene, encoding a co-chaperone with a vast array of interacting partners and causing most commonly growth hormone excess. While the mechanisms linking AIP with pituitary tumorigenesis have not been fully understood, they are likely to involve several pathways, including the cAMP-dependent protein kinase A pathway via defective G inhibitory protein signalling or altered interaction with phosphodiesterases. The cAMP pathway is also affected by other conditions predisposing to pituitary tumours, including X-linked acrogigantism caused by duplications of the GPR101 gene, encoding an orphan G stimulatory protein-coupled receptor. Activating mosaic mutations in the GNAS gene, coding for the Gα stimulatory protein, cause McCune–Albright syndrome, while inactivating mutations in the regulatory type 1α subunit of protein kinase A represent the most frequent genetic cause of Carney complex, a syndromic condition with multi-organ manifestations also involving the pituitary gland. In this review, we discuss the genetic and molecular aspects of isolated and syndromic familial pituitary adenomas due to germline or mosaic mutations, including those secondary to AIP and GPR101 mutations, multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 and 4, Carney complex, McCune–Albright syndrome, DICER1 syndrome and mutations in the SDHx genes underlying the association of familial paragangliomas and phaeochromocytomas with pituitary adenomas.

Free access

Pi-Jung Hsiao, Ming-Ying Lu, Feng-Yu Chiang, Shyi-Jang Shin, Yu-Da Tai and Suh-Hang Hank Juo

Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a potent stimulator for angiogenesis. It has been implicated in growth and metastasis of thyroid cancer. Three functional single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) of VEGF (−2578C/A, −634G/C, and +936C/T) are known to be related with VEGF expression. We conducted a case–control study to evaluate the genetic effects of these three functional SNPs on the development of thyroid cancer and lymph node metastasis. A total of 332 cases and 261 controls were recruited for this study. The genotypes were determined by the TaqMan 5′-nuclease assay. Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium (HWE) was tested for each SNP, and genetic effects were evaluated by the χ2-test and multiple logistic regression. We used Bonferroni correction to account for multiple testing, and a two-tailed P value <0.017 was considered statistically significant. All three SNPs were in HWE. The A allele of −2578C/A (i.e. SNP rs699947) increased a risk for thyroid cancer (adjusted OR=136, 95% CI=1.02–1.81, P=0.039). Haplotype analysis yielded a less significant result (an empirical P value of 0.07). There was a tendency of increasing the frequency of the risk allele from controls, patients without lymph node metastasis to patients with lymph node metastasis (P trend=0.019). Further analysis showed that the genetic effect was only in men (adjusted OR=1.97, 95% CI=1.16–3.37, P=0.013) but not in women (adjusted OR=1.15, 95% CI=0.81–1.62, P=0.435). The other two SNPs did not show significant results. The A allele of the SNP rs699947 increased the risk of thyroid cancer development and regional lymph node metastasis in men.

Free access

I Klein, O Esik, V Homolya, F Szeri and A Varadi

Medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) occurs usually in sporadic form, but about a quarter of the cases are hereditary and appear as part of one of the multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2) syndromes. Mutations in the RET protooncogene are known to be the cause of the MEN2A and familial medullary thyroid carcinoma (FMTC) syndromes in the majority of the families. Direct DNA testing allows prophylactic thyroidectomy to be offered to individuals carrying a mutation in the above codons, and in mutation-negative cases it reduces the yearly screening-related burden on family members at risk of the disease. By DNA sequencing and PCR-restriction fragment length polymorphisms, 65 MTC probands were examined for mutations in residues 609, 611, 618, 620 of exon 10, and in residues 634, 768, 804 of exons 11, 13, and 14 respectively of the RET protooncogene. In our study, mutations in the above codons were detected in all of the 14 clinically MEN2A and FMTC families. One of these mutations, TGC609 TCC has not been reported previously. Of the 14 probands with the mutation, 25 relatives also had the identified mutation and 18 relatives proved to be non-carriers. Among the 51 probands with clinically sporadic MTC, none was found to carry a mutation in the above positions even if indirect signs of MTC, pheochromocytoma or hyperparathyroidism could be detected in some families. The frequency of the TGC634AGC mutation is unexpectedly high in our samples, which can probably be attributed to a founder effect. We conclude that screening for mutations in these codons is effective in families fulfilling the strict clinical criteria of MEN2A or FMTC.

Restricted access

J Liu, AI Kahri, P Heikkila and R Voutilainen

Adrenomedullin (ADM) is a polypeptide originally discovered in a human pheochromocytoma and is also present in normal adrenal medulla. It has been proposed that ADM could be involved in the regulation of adrenal steroidogenesis via paracrine mechanisms. Our aim was to find out if ADM gene is expressed in adrenocortical tumors and how ADM gene expression is regulated in adrenal cells. ADM mRNA was detectable by Northern blotting in most normal and hyperplastic adrenals, adenomas and carcinomas. The average concentration of ADM mRNA in the hormonally active adrenocortical adenomas was about 80% and 7% of that in normal adrenal glands and separated adrenal medulla respectively. In adrenocortical carcinomas, the ADM mRNA concentration was very variable, but on average it was about six times greater than that in normal adrenal glands. In pheochromocytomas, ADM mRNA expression was about ten times greater than that in normal adrenals and three times greater than in separated adrenal medulla. In primary cultures of normal adrenal cells, a protein kinase C inhibitor, staurosporine, reduced ADM mRNA accumulation in a dose- and time-dependent fashion (P < 0.01), whereas it simultaneously increased the expression of human cholesterol side-chain cleavage enzyme (P450 scc) gene (a key gene in steroidogenesis). In cultured Cushing's adenoma cells, adrenocorticotropin, dibutyryl cAMP ((Bu)2cAMP) and staurosporine inhibited the accumulation of ADM mRNA by 40, 50 and 70% respectively (P < 0.05), whereas the protein kinase C activator, 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol 13-acetate (TPA), increased it by 50% (P < 0.05). In primary cultures of pheochromocytoma cells, treatment with (Bu)2cAMP for 1 and 3 days increased ADM mRNA accumulation two- to threefold (P < 0.05). Our results show that ADM mRNA is present not only in adrenal medulla and pheochromocytomas, but also in adrenocortical neoplasms. Both protein kinase A- and C-dependent mechanisms regulate ADM mRNA expression in adrenocortical and pheochromocytoma cells supporting the suggested role for ADM as an autocrine or paracrine (or both) regulator of adrenal function.

Restricted access

J Liu, R Voutilainen, A I Kahri and P Heikkilä


Abundant c-myc gene expression in neoplasms has been often linked to poor prognosis. As c-myc mRNA is expressed and hormonally regulated in human adrenals, we examined the c-myc gene expression in adrenal tumors by RNA analysis and immunohistochemistry to find out the possible role of c-myc in adrenal neoplasms. The abundant expression of the c-myc gene in normal adrenals was localized to the zona fasciculata and zona reticularis, with much lower expression in the zona glomerulosa and adrenal medulla. In hormonally active adrenocortical carcinomas (n=6) and in virilizing adenomas (n=4), c-myc mRNA levels were approximately 10% of those in normal adrenals (n=11). In contrast, adrenal adenomas from patients with Cushing's (n=4) and Conn's (n=9) syndrome, non-functional adenomas (n=2), adrenocortical hyperplasias (bilateral, n=5; nodular, n=4), and non-functional adrenocortical carcinomas (n=3) expressed c-myc mRNA to the same extent as normal adrenals. The c-myc mRNA abundance in benign adrenal pheochromocytomas (n=19) was similar to that in normal adrenal medulla. However, in malignant adrenal pheochromocytomas (n=6), the average c-myc mRNA levels were approximately threefold that in benign adrenal pheochromocytomas. There was a good correlation between c-myc mRNA expression and immunohistochemical reactivity in both normal and pathological adrenal tissues. Southern blot analysis revealed no amplification or rearrangement of the c-myc gene in any of the adrenal tumors.

In conclusion, c-myc expression localized to zona fasciculata and reticularis in normal adrenals. Virilizing adenomas and hormonally active adrenocortical carcinomas expressed c-myc mRNA clearly less than the other adrenal neoplasms and normal adrenal tissue. On the other hand, malignant pheochromocytomas contained more c-myc mRNA than benign ones. Further studies are required to clarify the mechanisms and significance for the distinct expression pattern of the c-myc gene in different adrenal neoplasms.

Journal of Endocrinology (1997) 152, 175–181

Open access

K E Lines, P J Newey, C J Yates, M Stevenson, R Dyar, G V Walls, M R Bowl and R V Thakker

Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) is an autosomal dominant disorder characterised by the combined occurrence of parathyroid, pituitary and pancreatic islet tumours, and is due to mutations of the MEN1 gene, which encodes the tumour suppressor protein menin. Menin has multiple roles in genome stability, transcription, cell division and proliferation, but its mechanistic roles in tumourigenesis remain to be fully elucidated. miRNAs are non-coding single-stranded RNAs that post-transcriptionally regulate gene expression and have been associated with tumour development, although the contribution of miRNAs to MEN1-associated tumourigenesis and their relationship with menin expression are not fully understood. Alterations in miRNA expression, including downregulation of three putative ‘tumour suppressor’ miRNAs, miR-15a, miR-16-1 and let-7a, have been reported in several tumour types including non-MEN1 pituitary adenomas. We have therefore investigated the expression of miR-15a, miR-16-1 and let-7a in pituitary tumours that developed after 12 months of age in female mice with heterozygous knockout of the Men1 gene (Men1 +/ mice). The miRNAs miR-15a, miR-16-1 and let-7a were significantly downregulated in pituitary tumours (by 2.3-fold, P < 0.05; 2.1-fold P < 0.01 and 1.6-fold P < 0.05, respectively) of Men1 +/ mice, compared to normal WT pituitaries. miR-15a and miR-16-1 expression inversely correlated with expression of cyclin D1, a known pro-tumourigenic target of these miRNAs, and knockdown of menin in a human cancer cell line (HeLa), and AtT20 mouse pituitary cell line resulted in significantly decreased expression of miR-15a (P < 0.05), indicating that the decrease in miR-15a may be a direct result of lost menin expression.

Free access

J Liu, P Heikkila, AI Kahri and R Voutilainen

Activin A (a homodimer of two activin betaA subunits) has been shown to induce the neuronal differentiation of rat pheochromocytoma PC12 cells. We studied activin A and its receptor gene expression in human pheochromocytomas in vivo and in vitro to clarify the potential involvement of activin A in the pathophysiology of these tumors. We first screened 20 pheochromocytomas and nine normal adrenal tissues for activin betaA mRNA expression. Northern blots hybridized with specific oligonucleotide probes detected weak signals for activin betaA transcripts in pheochromocytomas. Both type I and type II activin receptor (ActR-I, ActR-IB and ActR-II) mRNA expression was also detectable in the pheochromocytoma tissues. In primary cultures of pheochromocytoma cells, expression of activin betaA mRNA was readily detectable by Northern blotting, and secretion of activin A into the conditioned medium was confirmed by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The expression of activin betaA mRNA and secretion of activin A were induced by (Bu)(2)cAMP after 1 and 3 days of treatment (all P<0.05). A protein kinase inhibitor, staurosporine, inhibited the basal and (Bu)(2)cAMP-induced accumulation of activin betaA mRNA (P<0.05). In addition, induction of chromaffin phenotype by dexamethasone also inhibited the basal and (Bu)(2)cAMP-induced expression of activin A at both mRNA and protein levels (all P<0.05). In contrast, the expression of ActR-I and ActR-IB mRNAs was not affected by these agents in cultured pheochromocytoma cells. In summary, activin betaA subunit and activin receptors are expressed in human pheochromocytomas. Production of activin A in cultured pheochromocytoma cells is induced through the protein kinase A pathway, but reduced during chromaffin differentiation. Therefore, activin A may function as a local neurotrophic factor via an auto/paracrine manner in human pheochromocytomas.

Restricted access

M Stridsberg, K Öberg, Q Li, U Engström and G Lundqvist


Chromogranins and/or secretogranins constitute a family of water-soluble acidic glycoproteins that are present in almost all endocrine, neuroendocrine and neuronal tissue. Antibodies against chromogranins have been widely used for immunohistochemical staining of endocrine tissue and tumours of neuroendocrine origin. Furthermore, measurements of circulating chromogranin A have been used as a reliable marker for neuroendocrine tumour growth. In this study, we describe the development of specific antibodies against chromogranin A, chromogranin B (secretogranin I), chromogranin C (secretogranin II) and pancreastatin. The antibodies were used for immunohistochemical staining of normal and neoplastic neuroendocrine tissue and development of reliable radioimmunoassays for chromogranin A, chromogranin B, chromogranin C and pancreastatin. In 44 patients with carcinoid tumours, 17 patients with sporadic endocrine pancreatic tumours and 11 patients with endocrine pancreatic tumours and the multiple endocrine neoplasia 1 syndrome, plasma measurements revealed elevated chromogranin A levels in 99%, elevated chromogranin B in 88%, elevated chromogranin C in 6% and elevated pancreastatin in 46% of the patients. Urinary measurements revealed elevated levels in 39%, 15%, 14% and 33% of the patients respectively. Gel permeation chromatography of plasma and urine showed that circulating chromogranin A, and immunoreactive fragments of chromogranin A, had a higher molecular weight distribution than the chromogranin A fragments excreted to the urine. Furthermore, it was noted that most of the patients excreting chromogranin A fragments to the urine had previously been treated with streptozotocin, a cytotoxic agent known to induce renal tubular dysfunction. The antibodies raised proved useful for immunohistochemical staining and visualised endocrine cells in pancreatic islets, adrenal medulla and the small intestine as well as in endocrine pancreatic tumours, pheochromocytoma and midgut carcinoid tumours. In conclusion, the antibodies raised were useful for both immunohistochemical staining of normal tissue and endocrine tumours as well as development of specific radioimmunoassays for plasma measurements of the different chromogranins. Furthermore, we show that plasma measurements of chromogranin A and B were superior to measurements of chromogranin C and pancreastatin and plasma measurements of the different chromogranins were more reliable as markers for tumour growth than the corresponding urine measurements.

Journal of Endocrinology (1995) 144, 49–59

Restricted access

C. Wüster, F. Raue, C. Meyer, M. Bergmann and R. Ziegler


In a cross-sectional study of 39 patients with medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC), we have investigated the effects of long-term calcitonin excess on bone mineral density.

Bone mineral density was measured by dual X-ray absorptiometry at the lumbar spine between the second and fourth vertebra and by single photon absorptiometry at the distal forearm. The mean observation time of each patient between diagnosis of tumour and measurement of bone mineral density was 62·4 months (range 1–158 months). The mean calcitonin serum level was 14·4 μg/l at the time of measurement of bone mineral density. All patients were substituted with 150–200 μg l-thyroxine daily. At both sites, the mean bone mineral densities of all patients with MTC were not significantly different from controls. Patients with normal calcitonin levels (below 0·2 μg/l) after treatment had a normal bone mineral density of the spine but significantly (P <0·05) reduced bone mineral density values of the forearm. This was due to the decreased body surface areas of patients in this subgroup. Patients with multiple endocrine neoplasia type IIa had significantly higher bone mineral densities. Other bone-influencing factors, such as postoperative hypoparathyroidism, calcium intake, diarrhoea, menopause, tumour stage, previous anti-tumour treatment, or thyroxine substitution dose, did not affect bone mineral density.

We thus conclude that long-term excess of endogenous calcitonin in patients with MTC has no positive effect on bone mineral density.

Journal of Endocrinology (1992) 134, 141–147

Open access

Andrea Mafficini and Aldo Scarpa

Neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) may arise throughout the body and are a highly heterogeneous, relatively rare class of neoplasms difficult to study also for the lack of disease models. Despite this, knowledge on their molecular alterations has expanded in the latest years, also building from genetic syndromes causing their onset. Pancreatic NETs (PanNETs) have been among the most studied, and research so far has outlined a series of recurring features, as inactivation of MEN1, VHL, TSC1/2 genes and hyperactivation of the PI3K/mTOR pathway. Next-generation sequencing has added new information by showing the key role of alternative lengthening of telomeres, driven in a fraction of PanNETs by inactivation of ATRX/DAXX. Despite this accumulation of knowledge, single studies often relied on few cases or were limited to the DNA, RNA, protein or epigenetic level with lack of integrative analysis. The International Cancer Genome Consortium aimed at removing these barriers through a strict process of data and samples collection, to produce whole-genome integrated analyses for many tumour types. The results of this effort on PanNETs have been recently published and, while confirming previous observations provide a first snapshot of how heterogeneous is the combination of genetic alterations that drive this tumour type, yet converging into four pathways whose alteration has been enriched by newly discovered mechanisms. While calling for further integration of genetic and epigenetic analyses, these data allow to reconcile previous findings in a defined frame and may provide clinical research with markers for patients stratification and to guide targeted therapy decisions.