Object. Pituitary adenomas are usually benign tumors; however, some behave aggressively and metastasize. Until now, no specific marker of aggressive behavior or malignancy has been found. The polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM), which is highly expressed in embryonic tissues such as the brain and pituitary, is detected in some neuronal and neuroendocrine tumors. Because polysialylation has been implicated in the regulation of cell growth and migration, polysialylated NCAM expression has been considered as a prognostic marker in such tumors.
Methods. In the present study, the authors analyzed polysialylated NCAM expression in 82 pituitary tumors from humans: 49 secreting adenomas, 32 nonfunctioning adenomas, and one growth hormone and prolactin—secreting carcinoma associated with acromegaly and spinal and liver metastases. Based on immunohistochemical analyses, the tumors were classified as somatotropic (22 tumors), prolactinoma (14 tumors), corticotropic (17 tumors), and gonadotropic or so-called null cell adenomas (28 tumors). Assessment of polysialylated NCAM was performed using three different methods (immunohistochemical analysis, Western blot analysis, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) with a specific mouse monoclonal immunoglobulin M (Men B) that recognizes polysialic acid on NCAM. Tumoral NCAM expression was also evaluated with the aid of immunohistochemical analysis. Using this method, NCAM and polysialylated NCAM were studied in six healthy pituitaries. In addition, corrrelations were investigated using three statistical methods (chi-square test, nonparametric Mann—Whitney U-test, and principal component analysis) to compare tumoral polysialylated NCAM expression and seven parameters (tumor size and type, intrasphenoidal or cavernous sinus invasion, Ki-67 index, mitoses, and patient age and sex).
Neural cell adhesion molecules were expressed in the healthy anterior pituitary and in all tumors. In contrast, polysialylated NCAM was not found in the healthy pituitary gland, but was expressed in 46.3% of typical pituitary tumors and in 85% of the tumors selected as highly aggressive, including one carcinoma and three tumors with histological characteristics that raised suspicion of malignancy. There was no significant correlation between polysialylated NCAM expression and tumor size, tumor type, Ki-67 index, mitoses, or patient age and sex. In contrast, the expression of polysialylated NCAM, which was sensitive to endoneuraminidase-N treatment, was strongly correlated with tumor invasion (p < 0.0001).
Conclusions. In pituitary tumors in humans, expression of polysialylated NCAM is strongly related to tumor invasion and confirms the clinical diagnosis of aggressiveness.