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Prolactinoma is the most common pituitary tumour in adults. Macroprolactinomas, particularly in men, may occasionally exhibit a very aggressive clinical course as evidenced by progressive growth, invasion through bone into the sphenoid sinus, cavernous sinus, suprasellar region or the nasopharynx. Some may even progress to pituitary carcinoma with craniospinal or systemic metastases. Aggressive tumours have low cure rates despite appropriate medical and surgical treatment. The mechanisms underlying this aggressive biological behaviour have not yet been fully clarified. Recent immunohistochemical, molecular and genetic studies have provided some insight in this respect. Invasive prolactinomas may be associated with a high Ki-67/MIB-1 labelling index indicating increased cell proliferation, although this is not a universal finding. The AA polymorphism in the cyclin adenine (A)/guanine (G) gene is more frequently detected in invasive prolactinomas. Increased expression of the polysialylated neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) and reduced expression of the E-cadherin/catenin complex implies a contribution of altered cell-to-cell adhesion and cellular migration. Extracellular matrix components (ECM), matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and their inhibitors play important roles in the context of angiogenesis and invasion. The induction of fibroblast growth factor and vascular endothelial growth factor via oestrogen-induced overexpression of novel genes (PTTG, hst and Edpm5) enhance cell growth, proliferation and angiogenesis contributing to invasiveness in prolactinomas. Although mutations in proto-oncogenes like Ras are uncommon, loss of tumour suppressor genes at loci 11q13, 13q12-14, 10q and 1p seem to be associated with invasiveness. Of the described mechanisms, only reduced E-cadherin/catenin expression and overexpression of hst gene seem to be relatively specific markers for prolactinoma invasiveness compared with other pituitary adenomas. Further research is needed to clarify the molecular mechanisms behind the aggressive course of some prolactinomas to predict those with a potentially poor clinical outcome, and to devise treatments that will eventually enable the cure of these challenging tumours.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur J Endocrinol

Publication Date





143 - 153


Biomarkers, Tumor, Extracellular Matrix, Humans, Neovascularization, Pathologic, Pituitary Neoplasms, Prolactinoma