Clinical and molecular features of treatment-related neuroendocrine prostate cancer

Int J Urol. 2018 Apr;25(4):345-351. doi: 10.1111/iju.13526. Epub 2018 Feb 3.


Treatment-related neuroendocrine prostate cancer is a lethal form of prostate cancer that emerges in the later stages of castration-resistant prostate cancer treatment. Treatment-related neuroendocrine prostate cancer transdifferentiates from adenocarcinoma as an adaptive response to androgen receptor pathway inhibition. The incidence of treatment-related neuroendocrine prostate cancer has been rising due to the increasing use of potent androgen receptor pathway inhibitors. Typically, treatment-related neuroendocrine prostate cancer is characterized by either low or absent androgen receptor expression, small cell carcinoma morphology and expression of neuroendocrine markers. Clinically, it manifests with predominantly visceral or lytic bone metastases, bulky tumor masses, low prostate-specific antigen levels or a short response duration to androgen deprivation therapy. Furthermore, although the tumor initially responds to platinum-based chemotherapy, the duration of the response is short. Based on the poor prognosis, it is imperative to identify novel molecular targets for treatment-related neuroendocrine prostate cancer. Recent advances in genomic and molecular research, supported by novel in vivo models, have identified some of the key molecular characteristics of treatment-related neuroendocrine prostate cancer. The gain of MYCN and AURKA oncogenes, along with the loss of tumor suppressor genes TP53 and RB1 are key genomic alterations associated with treatment-related neuroendocrine prostate cancer. Androgen receptor repressed genes, such as BRN2 and PEG10, are also necessary for treatment-related neuroendocrine prostate cancer. These genetic changes converge on pathways upregulating genes, such as SOX2 and EZH2, that facilitate lineage plasticity and neuroendocrine differentiation. As a result, on potent androgen receptor pathway inhibition, castration-resistant prostate cancer transdifferentiates to treatment-related neuroendocrine prostate cancer in a clonally divergent manner. Further understanding of the disease biology is required to develop novel drugs and biomarkers that would help treat this aggressive prostate cancer variant.

Keywords: neuroendocrine; prostate cancer; small cell carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Androgen Receptor Antagonists / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / adverse effects*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Cell Transdifferentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Transdifferentiation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Neoplasms, Second Primary / chemically induced*
  • Neoplasms, Second Primary / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms, Second Primary / genetics
  • Neoplasms, Second Primary / pathology
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / chemically induced*
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / epidemiology
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / genetics
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Prostate / drug effects
  • Prostate / pathology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms, Castration-Resistant / drug therapy*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms, Castration-Resistant / pathology
  • Receptors, Androgen / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • AR protein, human
  • Androgen Receptor Antagonists
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Receptors, Androgen