Neuroendocrine Cancer: Somatostatin Receptors

ct compare to g68 pet
CT and G68 PET fused showing somatostatin receptor pick up

Don’t understand Somatostatin Receptors?  Join the club!  I got my head around the term ‘Somatostatin’ and ‘Somatostatin Analogues’ some time ago but the term ‘Somatostatin Receptor’ (SSTR) is still a bit of a mystery and it’s come to the top of my list of things to study.  SSTRs do come up in conversation quite often and I’m fed up of nodding sagely hoping it will eventually become clear! On analysis it looks like a technical subject – and therefore a challenge 🙂

I’ve taken a logical approach working from ‘Somatostatin’ to ‘Somatostatin Analogue’ before commencing on the ‘receptor’ bit.  It is intentionally brief and (hopefully) simplistic!

Somatostatin

It’s important to understand this hormone and then why your ‘butt dart’ is generically called a ‘Somatostatin Analogue’.

Some Neuroendocrine Tumours secrete hormones and peptides that cause distinct clinical syndromes, including amongst others, carcinoid syndrome.  Somatostatin is a naturally occurring hormone and a known inhibitor of some of these NET related hormones and peptides that can be over secreted and cause syndromes. For example, somatostatin from the hypothalamus inhibits the pituitary gland’s secretion of growth hormone (GH) and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). In addition, somatostatin is produced in the pancreas and inhibits the secretion of other pancreatic hormones such as insulin and glucagon.  However, the naturally produced Somatostatin does not have the lifespan to have any effect on Neuroendocrine Tumours which are over secreting these hormones and peptides. ……. cue manufactured versions that can!

Somatostatin Analogue (SSA)

These are manufactured versions of Somatostatin known as Somatostatin Analogues.  These are designed to have a lasting effect to inhibit for much longer and therefore reduce the symptoms caused by the over secretion (i.e. the syndrome).  Examples of Somatostatin Analogue include Octreotide (Sandostatin), Lanreotide (Somatuline) and Pasireotide (Signifor).

So how do Somatostatin Analogues actually work? 

For the inhibition to work effectively, there needs to be a route into the over secreting tumours, normally via short or long acting injections or even intravenously. On the tumour cells, there are currently 5 known sub-types of ‘Somatostatin Receptors’  (SSTR) which are ‘expressed’ by most NETs.   These are known as SSTR1 through to SSTR5.  The naturally occurring hormone Somatostatin attempts to bind with all 5 but as above, it lacks the lifespan to make any impact to inhibit sufficiently in cases of overecretion. However, SSAs can overcome this with the longer lifespan.  They can successfully in most cases bind with these receptors to inhibit the hormones and peptides causing the problems, particularly SSTR2 with modest affinity to SSTR5. Clearly it’s therefore advantageous to target SSTR2.

Somatostatin Receptors

The subtypes expressed by NETs are variable and the efficiency of different SSAs in binding to each SSTR subtype also varies. For example the table below lists the variability of Somatostatin Receptor efficiency in different types of NET.  Interesting to note that non-functional NETs might not have efficient SSTRs but SSAs will still try to bind to them albeit it might not work or have a lesser effect.

Somatostatin receptors are found in high numbers on the surface of NET’s. Most receptors are in the inactive state (based on something called the phosphorylation status). Traditionally, agents such as dotatate have only bound to activated receptors on the surface.  Scientists are looking at ways to bind to inactive receptors to increase therapy success (for example see clinical trial OPS 201)

Table 1 – Somatostatin receptor subtypes in neuroendocrine tumours (mRNA) (See Copyright)

Tumour SSTR1 (%) SSTR2 (%) SSTR3 (%) SSTR4 (%) SSTR5 (%)
Gastrinoma 79a 93 36 61 93
Insulinoma 76 81 38 58 57
Non-functioning pancreatic tumour 58 88 42 48 50
Gastro-intestinal NET 76 80 43 68 77

This table above clearly shows the variability of SSTRs when binding with different types of NETs.  It follows that manufacturers of SSAs will be using this data in the formulation of their drugs.  If you now look at the table below, you can see how efficiently the 3 well-known SSAs inhibit NETs on each SSTR.

Compound SSTR1 SSTR2 SSTR3 SSTR4 SSTR5
RECEPTOR SUBTYPE AFFINITY (IC50, nM)
Octreotide 1140 0.56 34 7030 7
Lanreotide 2330 0.75 107 2100 5.2
Pasireotide 9.3 1 1.5 >100 0.16

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You can see from the data why Octreotide and Lanreotide target SSTR2 and to a lesser extent SSTR5 but Pasireotide (Signifor or SOM-230) is interesting as it appears to have affinity for SSTRs 1-3 and 5, probably why it has been approved for Cushing’s Disease (ATCH producing).  However, to date, there has not been enough evidence showing that Pasireotide has a progression-free survival benefit over the other 2 therapies. It is also associated with hyperglycemia. You may find this video interesting as the doctor (Strosberg) is suggesting it could be used by NET patients in certain scenarios.

What about SSA labelled diagnostics?

The same principles apply.  For example, an Octreotide Scan (actually known as ‘Somatostatin Receptor’ Scintigraphy (SRS)) works by taking pictures using a gamma camera which is designed to see radiation from a ‘tracer’.  The tracer in question is a radio labelled with an Octreotide variant (such as pentetreotide) which will bind to somatostatin receptors on the surface of the tumour cells  In the simplest of terms, this shows up where NETs are.  The same principles apply to Ga 68 PET scans which are more advanced and more sensitive than SRS.

What about SSA labelled therapies?

With (say) Peptide Receptor Radiotherapy (PRRT), there is a similar binding mechanism going on.  In PRRT, Octreotide or a variant, is combined with a therapeutic dose of the radionuclides, e.g. Yttrium 90 (Y-90) and Lutetium 177 (Lu-177).  It binds with the SSTRs on the tumour cells and the therapeutic dose attacks the tumour having been brought there by the binding effect.  Simple isn’t it?

Do Somatostatin Receptors work for everyone?

Unfortunately not.  Some people have more sensitive receptors than others and the figure of 80% appears to be the most common statistic indicating one-fifth of all NET patients may not be able to respond correctly to SSA treatment or get the right results from Octreoscans/Ga 68 PET and/or PRRT.  However, that needs to be taken into context and probably applies to midgut NETs measured against SSTR2 – the tables above tend to confirm this figure.  During my research, I did read that higher than normal doses of SSAs may have some effect on those with less sensitive SSTRs.  Also, SSAs seem to work much better with well-differentiated tumours.

How do I know if my Somatostatin Receptors work?

When I was completing my NET checks after diagnosis, my Oncologist declared I was “Octreotide avid” shortly after my Octreoscan was compared with my CT.  I’m guessing that is a simple and crude test and how most people find out they have working receptors.  I also suspect that if your syndrome symptoms are abated somewhat by SSA injections, then you there is a good chance your SSTRs are working normally.  I also suspect those who show clear signs of tumour on CT but not on Octreoscan or Ga 68 PET, could have a receptor issue.

The advent of modern PET scanning (e.g. Ga68) has meant more accurate methods of working out if someone has the right receptors for PRRT through analysis of something known as standardized uptake values (SUV).

A more modern approach is to use a ‘Theranostic Pair” where the same radiolabelled tracer is used with the advantage that the diagnostic element can predict suitability for the therapy component  – read more here

lutathera owl - Copy


Somatostatin Receptor Research – Interest Point

I was please to see a piece of research ongoing to look at the issues with lack of somatostatin receptors.  The research is looking at novel imaging agents for NETs which do not have working receptors.  Read more here.

Summary

I hope this gives you a very basic outline of why Somatostatin Receptors are important to support the diagnosis and treatment of NETs.

My article “If you can see it, you can detect it” is almost 100% accurate but having working receptors really helps with nuclear scans.

Preclinical and clinical studies have indicated that somatostatin receptor (SSTR)expressing tumors demonstrate higher uptake of radiolabeled SSTR antagonists than of the currently approved SSTR agonist versions. See clinical trial OPS 201 for an example of the next generation of somatostatin receptor based theranostics where the use of a somatostatin antagonists.

thanks for reading