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Overexpression of the insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (IGF-1R) is associated with malignancy in familial pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas


Correspondence: Patricia A. Pennisi, PhD., CEDIE-CONICET. Hospital de Niños “Dr. Ricardo Gutiérrez”, Gallo 1360. C1425EFD, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tel.: +54 11 4963 5931 ext 121; Fax: +54 11 4963 5930; E-mail:



Pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas (pheo/pgl) are neuroendocrine tumours derived from chromaffin cells. Although mostly benign, up to 26% of pheo/pgl will undergo malignant transformation. Reliable histological signs to differentiate benign pheo/pgl from malignant tumours are currently lacking. Increased IGF-1R expression has been shown during progression to metastatic phenotypes of several types of cancer.


To analyse the distribution and expression of the IGF-1R in pheo/pgl of different genetic origin and degree of malignancy.


We studied the expression of the IGF-1R protein by immunohistochemistry, in 40 primary tumours from patients with pheo/pgl from different genetic aetiology (11 of 29 metastatic/nonmetastatic diseases).


We found a strong association between increased expression of IGF-1R and malignant behaviour regardless of the age at diagnosis and the genetic aetiology. IGF-1R labelling was mostly weak in primary tumours from patients with nonmetastatic pheo/pgl. Conversely, intense IGF-1R labelling was predominant in cases of pheo/pgl with confirmed metastatic disease. The risk of metastases was 11·7 times higher if tumour IGF-1R labelling was intense independently of age at diagnosis. The probability of remaining free of metastases was higher in patients with pheo/pgl scored weak for IGF-1R at 60 months and more than twofold higher at 120 months of follow-up than in patients with intense IGF-1R labelling in their primary tumours.


Our results strongly suggest that IGF-1R is associated with malignancy in familial pheo/pgl and that IGF-1R expression in the primary tumour might be a useful tool to detect those patients harbouring pheo/pgl who have an increased risk of metastasis.

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