Background: Distinguishing between adrenocortical adenomas and carcinomas is often difficult. Our aim was to investigate the differences in transcriptional profiles between benign and malignant adrenocortical neoplasms using complementary DNA microarray techniques.
Methods: We studied 7 patients with adrenocortical carcinomas and 13 with adenomas. Histopathology was reviewed in all patients; clinical follow-up was at least 1 year. Hybridizations were performed in duplicate against RNA reference. Expression levels were analyzed in the R environment for statistical computing with the use of aroma, limma, statistics, and class packages.
Results: Transcriptional profiles were homogeneous among adenomas, while carcinomas were much more heterogeneous. Hierarchical clustering and self-organizing maps could separate clearly carcinomas from adenomas. Among genes that were most significantly upregulated in carcinomas were 2 ubiquitin-related genes (USP4 and UFD1L) and several insulinlike growth factor-related genes (IGF2, IGF2R, IGFBP3 and IGFBP6). Among genes that were most significantly downregulated in carcinomas were a cytokine gene (CXCL10), several genes related to cell metabolism (RARRES2, ALDH1A1, CYBRD1 and GSTA4), and the cadherin 2 gene (CDH2).
Conclusions: Through the use of cDNA arrays, adrenocortical adenomas and carcinomas appear to be clearly distinguishable on the basis of their specific molecular signature. The biologic importance of the up- and downregulated genes is yet to be determined.