Rationale: Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (PPGLs) are rare neuroendocrine tumors that present variable outcomes. To date, no effective therapies or reliable prognostic markers are available for patients who develop metastatic PPGL (mPPGL). Our aim was to discover robust prognostic markers validated through in vitro models, and define specific therapeutic options according to tumor genomic features. Methods: We analyzed three PPGL miRNome datasets (n=443), validated candidate markers and assessed them in serum samples (n=36) to find a metastatic miRNA signature. An integrative study of miRNome, transcriptome and proteome was performed to find miRNA targets, which were further characterized in vitro. Results: A signature of six miRNAs (miR-21-3p, miR-183-5p, miR-182-5p, miR-96-5p, miR-551b-3p, and miR-202-5p) was associated with metastatic risk and time to progression. A higher expression of five of these miRNAs was also detected in PPGL patients' liquid biopsies compared with controls. The combined expression of miR-21-3p/miR-183-5p showed the best power to predict metastasis (AUC=0.804, P=4.67·10-18), and was found associated in vitro with pro-metastatic features, such as neuroendocrine-mesenchymal transition phenotype, and increased cell migration rate. A pan-cancer multi-omic integrative study correlated miR-21-3p levels with TSC2 expression, mTOR pathway activation, and a predictive signature for mTOR inhibitor-sensitivity in PPGLs and other cancers. Likewise, we demonstrated in vitro a TSC2 repression and an enhanced rapamycin sensitivity upon miR-21-3p expression. Conclusions: Our findings support the assessment of miR-21-3p/miR-183-5p, in tumors and liquid biopsies, as biomarkers for risk stratification to improve the PPGL patients' management. We propose miR-21-3p to select mPPGL patients who may benefit from mTOR inhibitors.
Keywords: liquid biopsy; miR-21-3p; multi-omic integration; pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma; prognostic biomarker.