Phaeochromocytoma: a catecholamine and oxidative stress disorder

K Pacak
Endocrine Regulations 2011, 45 (2): 65-90
21615192
The WHO classification of endocrine tumors defines pheochromocytoma as a tumor arising from chromaffin cells in the adrenal medulla - an intra-adrenal paraganglioma. Closely related tumors of extra-adrenal sympathetic and parasympathetic paraganglia are classified as extra-adrenal paragangliomas. Almost all pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas produce catecholamines. The concentrations of catecholamines in pheochromocytoma tissues are enormous, potentially creating a volcano that can erupt at any time. Significant eruptions result in catecholamine storms called "attacks" or "spells". Acute catecholamine crisis can strike unexpectedly, leaving traumatic memories of acute medical disaster that champions any intensive care unit. A very well-defined genotype-biochemical phenotype relationship exists, guiding proper and cost-effective genetic testing of patients with these tumors. Currently, the production of norepinephrine and epinephrine is optimally assessed by the measurement of their O-methylated metabolites, normetanephrine or metanephrine, respectively. Dopamine is a minor component, but some paragangliomas produce only this catecholamine or this together with norepinephrine. Methoxytyramine, the O-methylated metabolite of dopamine, is the best biochemical marker of these tumors. In those patients with equivocal biochemical results, a modified clonidine suppression test coupled with the measurement of plasma normetanephrine has recently been introduced. In addition to differences in catecholamine enzyme expression, the presence of either constitutive or regulated secretory pathways contributes further to the very unique mutation-dependent catecholamine production and release, resulting in various clinical presentations. Oxidative stress results from a significant imbalance between levels of prooxidants, generated during oxidative phosphorylation, and antioxidants. The gradual accumulation of prooxidants due to metabolic oxidative stress results in proto-oncogene activation, tumor suppressor gene inactivation, DNA damage, and genomic instability. Since the mitochondria serves as the main source of prooxidants, any mitochondrial impairment leads to severe oxidative stress, a major outcome of which is tumor development. In terms of cancer pathogenesis, pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas represent tumors where the oxidative phosphorylation defect due to the mutation of succinate dehydrogenase is the cause, not a consequence, of tumor development. Any succinate dehydrogenase pathogenic mutation results in the shift from oxidative phosphorylation to aerobic glycolysis in the cytoplasm (also called anaerobic glycolysis if hypoxia is the main cause of such a shift). This phenomenon, also called the Warburg effect, is well demonstrated by a positive [18F]-fluorodeoxyglycose positron emission tomography scan. Microarray studies, genome-wide association studies, proteomics and protein arrays, metabolomics, transcriptomics, and bioinformatics approaches will remain powerful tools to further uncover the pathogenesis of these tumors and their unique markers, with the ultimate goal to introduce new therapeutic options for those with metastatic or malignant pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma. Soon oxidative stress will be tightly linked to a multistep cancer process in which the mutation of various genes (perhaps in a logistic way) ultimately results in uncontrolled growth, proliferation, and metastatic potential of practically any cell. Targeting the mTORC, IGF-1, HIF and other pathways, topoisomerases, protein degradation by proteosomes, balancing the activity of protein kinases and phosphatases or even synchronizing the cell cycle before any exposure to any kind of therapy will soon become a reality. Facing such a reality today will favor our chances to "beat" this disease tomorrow.

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