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Horm Metab Res. 2009 Sep;41(9):664-71. doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1215590. Epub 2009 Apr 23.

Pheochromocytomas: from genetic diversity to new paradigms.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas 78229-3900, USA.


Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas are catecholamine-secreting tumors of neural crest origin caused by germline mutations in at least six distinct genes. This genetic heterogeneity has provided a rich source for both the discovery and functional characterization of new tumor-related genes. However, the genetic repertoire of these tumors is still not fully known, and current evidence points to the existence of additional pheochromocytoma susceptibility genes. Here, the unique contributions of three hereditary models of pheochromocytoma that can advance our knowledge of the disease pathogenesis are presented. The first model, loss of succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) function, illustrates how SDHB, C, or D mutations, components of the energy metabolism pathway, serve as a unique system to explore the pervasive metabolic shift of cancer cells towards glycolysis as a source of energy (also known as the Warburg effect) in contrast to the characteristic oxidative phosphorylation of normal cells. In the second model, mechanisms of tumorigenesis distinct from classical pheochromocytoma susceptibility genes are discussed in the context of a novel putative suppressor of neural crest-derived tumors, the KIF1B beta gene. Finally, NF1 loss is highlighted as a valuable study model to investigate the cell lineage selectivity of the Egln3-mediated developmental apoptotic defect of chromaffin precursor cells. Results from these studies may offer clues to understand the tissue specificity of hereditary pheochromocytoma syndromes. These distinct hereditary disease models illustrate how genetic-driven progress has the potential to narrow current gaps in our knowledge of pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma pathogenesis.

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