Horm Metab Res 2009; 41(9): 710-714
DOI: 10.1055/s-0029-1224136
Original Basic

© Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart · New York

RET Expression and Neuron-like Differentiation of Pheochromocytoma and Normal Chromaffin Cells

J. F. Powers 1 , K. L. Picard 1 , A. S. Tischler 1
  • 1Department of Pathology, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA
Further Information

Publication History

received 17.12.2008

accepted 24.04.2009

Publication Date:
23 June 2009 (online)


Receptor tyrosine kinase RET is normally expressed at low levels in chromaffin cells and high levels in sympathetic neurons. Paradoxically, it is overexpressed in subsets of pheochromocytomas. The overexpressed protein is usually wild-type, except in multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2. Possible explanations for overexpression include tumor origin from RET-expressing sympathoadrenal progenitors that escape developmental culling during embryogenesis, or reactivation of signaling pathways related to neuronal differentiation. Normal adult chromaffin and pheochromocytoma cells can undergo neuron-like differentiation in cell culture. In this investigation, cultured cells from two normal human adrenal medullas, two of three human pheochromocytomas, and one extra-adrenal paraganglioma showed RET induction corresponding with extensive nerve growth factor-induced outgrowth of neurite-like processes, while one pheochromocytoma showed neither processes nor RET induction. RET was similarly upregulated in parallel with process outgrowth in cultures of normal rat chromaffin cells and PC12 rat pheochromocytoma cells. In contrast, mouse pheochromocytoma cells that constitutively express high levels of wild-type RET together with other neuronal progenitor markers showed no further RET increase after cyclic AMP-induced process outgrowth. The RET-activating ligand GDNF was anti-apoptotic for mouse pheochromocytoma but not for PC12 cells. The findings suggest that overexpression of RET in pheochromocytomas could result either from a secondary event that activates signaling pathways mediating adult chromaffin cell plasticity or as a component of a persistent sympathoadrenal progenitor phenotype. Whether wild-type RET contributes to tumor development or is merely a lineage marker for cells at various stages of neuronal differentiation may vary, with other tumor characteristics.



J. F. Powers

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