Neuroendocrine tumours: cracking the epigenetic code

    1. C Thirlwell1,2
    1. 1 University College London Cancer Institute , 72 Huntley Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
      2 Neuroendocrine Tumour Unit , Royal Free Hospital, Pond Street, London NW3 2QG, UK
    1. (Correspondence should be addressed to C Thirlwell; Email: christina.thirlwell{at}


    The field of epigenetics has evolved rapidly over recent years providing insight into the tumorigenesis of many solid and haematological malignancies. Determination of epigenetic modifications in neuroendocrine tumour (NET) development is imperative if we are to improve our understanding of the biology of this heterogenous group of tumours. Epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation at RASSF1A are frequent findings in NETs of all origins and may be associated with worse prognosis. MicroRNA signatures and histone modifications have been identified which can differentiate subtypes of NET and distinguish NET from adenocarcinoma in cases of diagnostic uncertainty. Historically, candidate gene-driven approaches have yielded limited insight into the epigenetics of NET. Recent progress has been facilitated by development of high-throughput tools including second-generation sequencing and arrays for analysis of the ‘epigenome’ of tumour and normal tissue, permitting unbiased approaches such as exome sequencing that identified mutations of chromatin-remodelling genes ATRX/DAXX in 44% of pancreatic NETs. Epigenetic changes are reversible and therefore represent an attractive therapeutic target; to date, clinical outcomes of epigenetic therapies in solid tumours have been disappointing; however, in vitro studies on NETs are promising and further clinical trials are required to determine utility of this class of novel agents. In this review, we perform a comprehensive evaluation of epigenetic changes found in NETs to date, including rare NETs such as phaeochromocytoma and adrenocortical tumours. We suggest priorities for future research and discuss potential clinical applications and novel therapies.

    • Revision received 4 February 2013
    • Accepted 18 February 2013
    • Made available online as an Accepted Preprint 21 February 2013
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