Sequential pathogenesis of metastatic VHL mutant clear cell renal cell carcinoma: putting it together with a translational perspective

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Abstract

Clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) accounts for ∼80% of all RCC, and biallelic Von Hippel–Lindau (VHL) gene defects occur in ∼75% of sporadic ccRCC. The etiopathogenesis of VHL mutant metastatic RCC, based on our understanding to date of molecular mechanisms involved, is a sequence of events which can be grouped under the following: (i) loss of VHL activity (germline/somatic mutation + inactivation of the wild-type copy); (ii) constitutive activation of the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) pathway due to loss of VHL activity and transcription of genes involved in angiogenesis, epithelial–mesenchymal transition, invasion, metastasis, survival, anaerobic glycolysis and pentose phosphate pathway; (iii) interactions of the HIF pathway with other oncogenic pathways; (iv) genome-wide epigenetic changes (potentially driven by an overactive HIF pathway) and the influence of epigenetics on various oncogenic, apoptotic, cell cycle regulatory and mismatch repair pathways (inhibition of multiple tumor suppressor genes); (v) immune evasion, at least partially caused by changes in the epigenome. These mechanisms interact throughout the pathogenesis and progression of disease, and also confer chemoresistance and radioresistance, making it one of the most difficult metastatic cancers to treat. This article puts together the sequential pathogenesis of VHL mutant ccRCC by elaborating these mechanisms and the interplay of oncogenic pathways, epigenetics, metabolism and immune evasion, with a perspective on potential therapeutic strategies. We reflect on the huge gap between our understanding of the molecular biology and currently accepted standard of care in metastatic ccRCC, and present ideas for better translational research involving therapeutic strategies with combinatorial drug approach, targeting different aspects of the pathogenesis.

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