Paraganglioma and phaeochromocytoma: from genetics to personalized medicine

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2015 Feb;11(2):101-11. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2014.188. Epub 2014 Nov 11.


Paragangliomas and phaeochromocytomas are neuroendocrine tumours whose pathogenesis and progression are very strongly influenced by genetics. A germline mutation in one of the susceptibility genes identified so far explains ∼40% of all cases; the remaining 60% are thought to be sporadic cases. At least one-third of these sporadic tumours contain a somatic mutation in a predisposing gene. Genetic testing, which is indicated in every patient, is guided by the clinical presentation as well as by the secretory phenotype and the immunohistochemical characterization of the tumours. The diagnosis of an inherited form drives clinical management and tumour surveillance. Different 'omics' profiling methods have provided a neat classification of these tumours in accordance with their genetic background. Transcriptomic studies have identified two main molecular pathways that underlie development of these tumours, one in which the hypoxic pathway is activated (cluster 1) and another in which the MAPK and mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) signalling pathways are activated (cluster 2). DNA methylation profiling has uncovered a hypermethylator phenotype in tumours related to SDHx genes (a group of genes comprising SDHA, SDHB, SDHC, SDHD and SDHAF2) and revealed that succinate acts as an oncometabolite, inhibiting 2-oxoglutarate-dependent dioxygenases, such as hypoxia-inducible factor prolyl-hydroxylases and histone and DNA demethylases. 'Omics' data have suggested new therapeutic targets for patients with a malignant tumour. In the near future, new 'omics'-based tests are likely to be transferred into clinical practice with the goal of establishing personalized medical management for affected patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / genetics
  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / genetics
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / pathology
  • Paraganglioma / genetics*
  • Paraganglioma / pathology
  • Pheochromocytoma / genetics
  • Pheochromocytoma / pathology
  • Precision Medicine / methods*