The clinical features and molecular mechanisms of ACTH-secreting pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.

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Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (pNETs) causing ectopic adrenal corticotropic hormone (ACTH) syndrome (EAS) are rare and aggressive with little known information. We aimed to elucidate the clinical features and molecular mechanisms of pNETs with EAS by methylation analysis.Seven patients with ectopic ACTH-secreting pNETs who were diagnosed at Shanghai Clinical Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Center and Pancreatic Disease Center in Ruijin Hospital between 2001 and 2019 were enrolled. Twenty patients with ectopic ACTH-secreting thymic neuroendocrine tumors (TNETs) and eight with nonfunctional pNETs (nf-pNETs) were also enrolled as controls. We collected clinical data and measured POMC promoter CpG methylation.All seven patients had elevated ACTH and urinary free cortisol (UFC) levels with positive ACTH staining in the pancreas and were diagnosed with ectopic ACTH-secreting pNET. Of the 7 patients, 6 underwent surgery, and 1 underwent transarterial embolization (TAE). Two patients were free of disease after surgery; 2 died within 90 days after surgery, and 3 had metastases and died within 1 year. Compared to ACTH-secreting TNETs, ACTH-secreting pNETs had similar clinical and biochemical features but a significantly poorer prognosis. POMC promoter CpG methylation was significantly lower in ACTH-secreting pNETs than in nf-pNETs and normal pancreas.ACTH-secreting pNETs are aggressive and fatal. Surgery is definitively curative for patients with resectable primary tumors without metastasis. POMC promoter hypomethylation caused pNETs to produce ACTH. This study further supplements the genetic features of ACTH-secreting NETs.

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