The role of neuroendocrine cells in prostate cancer: a comprehensive review of current literature and subsequent rationale to broaden and integrate current treatment modalities

Curr Med Chem. 2014;21(9):1082-92. doi: 10.2174/0929867321666131201143752.


Neuroendocrine prostate carcinoma (NE-PCa) is a heterogeneous disease. Due to a high prevalence of NE (neuroendocrine) differentiation in patients who receive prolonged androgen deprivation treatment, the real incidence of NE-PCa remains unknown. Similarly, the biological steps from prostate carcinoma (PCa) toward NE differentiation are far less than definitive and, consequently, there is a lack of evidence to support any of the treatments as the "gold standard".

Materials and methods: A systematic literature search was conducted using the PubMed, Scopus, and Embase databases to identify original articles and review articles regarding NE-PCa . Keywords were "prostate cancer" and "neuroendocrine". Articles published between 1995 and 2013, were reviewed and selected with the consensus of all of the authors.

Results: Fifty-one articles were selected by the authors for the purpose of this review. The principle findings were reported into some subsections: Epidemiology, Biological steps of NE differentiation (with some principle articles on animal and in vitro, since there is very little in the literature on human studies); for the treatment options, we had to expand the search on PubMed to a larger timeframe and selection since very little was specifically found in the first criteria: surgery, radiotherapy, ablative techniques, immunomodulation and epigenetic therapy were then reviewed. A multidisciplinary approach, advocated by many authors, although promising, has failed to demonstrate increased survival rates. Limitations of this review include the lack of a clear definition of NE-PCa and consequently, the lack of strong evidence provided by a large series with long-term follow-up.

Conclusions: Supported from this extensive review, we propose it is worthwhile to investigate a new multimodal therapeutic approach to address advanced NE-PCa starting from a debulking (with radical intent) of the disease plus epigenetic therapy with stem cell differentiation stage factors (SCDSFs). In addition immunotherapy can be used to treat the cancer presenting phenotype in association with chemomodulation plus ablative therapies, in case of advanced or recurrent diseases. SCDSFs may be utilized to regulate cancer stem cells and possible new phenotypes could also be associated with ablative therapies. Hormonal deprivation, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, ex vivo vaccines and targeted therapies could also be used and reserved in case of failure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Cryosurgery
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuroendocrine Cells*
  • Photochemotherapy
  • Prognosis
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / therapy*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor