Aggressive variants of prostate cancer: underlying mechanisms of neuroendocrine transdifferentiation

Lina Merkens*, Verena Sailer, Davor Lessel, Ella Janzen, Sarah Greimeier, Jutta Kirfel, Sven Perner, Klaus Pantel, Stefan Werner, Gunhild von Amsberg

*Corresponding author for this work


Prostate cancer is a hormone-driven disease and its tumor cell growth highly relies on increased androgen receptor (AR) signaling. Therefore, targeted therapy directed against androgen synthesis or AR activation is broadly used and continually improved. However, a subset of patients eventually progresses to castration-resistant disease. To date, various mechanisms of resistance have been identified including the development of AR-independent aggressive variant prostate cancer based on neuroendocrine transdifferentiation (NED). Here, we review the highly complex processes contributing to NED. Genetic, epigenetic, transcriptional aberrations and posttranscriptional modifications are highlighted and the potential interplay of the different factors is discussed. Background Aggressive variant prostate cancer (AVPC) with traits of neuroendocrine differentiation emerges in a rising number of patients in recent years. Among others, advanced therapies targeting the androgen receptor axis have been considered causative for this development. Cell growth of AVPC often occurs completely independent of the androgen receptor signal transduction pathway and cells have mostly lost the typical cellular features of prostate adenocarcinoma. This complicates both diagnosis and treatment of this very aggressive disease. We believe that a deeper understanding of the complex molecular pathological mechanisms contributing to transdifferentiation will help to improve diagnostic procedures and develop effective treatment strategies. Indeed, in recent years, many scientists have made important contributions to unravel possible causes and mechanisms in the context of neuroendocrine transdifferentiation. However, the complexity of the diverse molecular pathways has not been captured completely, yet. This narrative review comprehensively highlights the individual steps of neuroendocrine transdifferentiation and makes an important contribution in bringing together the results found so far.

Original languageEnglish
Article number46
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)46
Publication statusPublished - 02.02.2022

Research Areas and Centers

  • Research Area: Luebeck Integrated Oncology Network (LION)
  • Centers: University Cancer Center Schleswig-Holstein (UCCSH)


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