Corticotroph Aggressive Pituitary Tumors and Carcinomas Frequently Harbor ATRX Mutations

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2021 Mar 25;106(4):1183-1194. doi: 10.1210/clinem/dgaa749.

Abstract

Context: Aggressive pituitary tumors (APTs) are characterized by unusually rapid growth and lack of response to standard treatment. About 1% to 2% develop metastases being classified as pituitary carcinomas (PCs). For unknown reasons, the corticotroph tumors are overrepresented among APTs and PCs. Mutations in the alpha thalassemia/mental retardation syndrome X-linked (ATRX) gene, regulating chromatin remodeling and telomere maintenance, have been implicated in the development of several cancer types, including neuroendocrine tumors.

Objective: To study ATRX protein expression and mutational status of the ATRX gene in APTs and PCs.

Design: We investigated ATRX protein expression by using immunohistochemistry in 30 APTs and 18 PCs, mostly of Pit-1 and T-Pit cell lineage. In tumors lacking ATRX immunolabeling, mutational status of the ATRX gene was explored.

Results: Nine of the 48 tumors (19%) demonstrated lack of ATRX immunolabelling with a higher proportion in patients with PCs (5/18; 28%) than in those with APTs (4/30;13%). Lack of ATRX was most common in the corticotroph tumors, 7/22 (32%), versus tumors of the Pit-1 lineage, 2/24 (8%). Loss-of-function ATRX mutations were found in all 9 ATRX immunonegative cases: nonsense mutations (n = 4), frameshift deletions (n = 4), and large deletions affecting 22-28 of the 36 exons (n = 3). More than 1 ATRX gene defect was identified in 2 PCs.

Conclusion: ATRX mutations occur in a subset of APTs and are more common in corticotroph tumors. The findings provide a rationale for performing ATRX immunohistochemistry to identify patients at risk of developing aggressive and potentially metastatic pituitary tumors.

Keywords: ATRX (alpha thalassemia/mental retardation syndrome X-linked); Cushing’s disease; aggressive PitNETs; pituitary adenoma; pituitary carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't