Canine Pituitary Organoids as 3D In Vitro Model for Cushing Disease

Karin Sanders, Femke C A Ringnalda, Marc L van de Wetering, Hans S Kooistra, Björn P Meij, Hans Clevers, Sara Galac

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Cushing disease (CD) is a serious endocrine disorder that is most often caused by an ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma. Patients can be treated medically when surgery is not an option or was unsuccessful. However, currently used pituitary-targeting drugs are effective in only 40% of patients. To efficiently identify new pituitary-targeting treatment options, we need an in vitro system that closely mimics in vivo conditions. We therefore aimed to establish organoid cultures of normal anterior pituitary and corticotroph adenomas. Organoids or tumoroids are miniature three-dimensional (3D) structures grown from stem cells, that closely resemble the organ or tumor they originate from. Because CD is a thousand times more prevalent in dogs than in humans, and hypophysectomy is the treatment of choice, we used canine tissues. Normal anterior pituitary glands were collected from three healthy dogs that were euthanized for reasons unrelated to the current study. Corticotroph adenomas were collected from six dogs that underwent transsphenoidal hypophysectomy at our University Clinic. The dogs were diagnosed with CD based on clinical signs, endocrine testing, and CT scan imaging. Normal anterior pituitary and corticotroph adenoma cells were cultured in a 3D matrix (basement membrane extract) with anterior pituitary organoid medium containing specific growth factors and ligands, which was refreshed twice a week. The organoids and tumoroids were characterized with histopathology and RT-qPCR. Structures resembling organoids or tumoroids grew from all nine samples (3 normal, 6 adenoma) that were put in culture. Both cystic and dense structures were observed. The organoids and tumoroids expanded rapidly, and could be passaged once every week. The organoids and tumoroids were successfully cultured up until passage number 10, and were then frozen down. Histopathology showed that the organoid or tumoroid cells morphologically resembled healthy anterior pituitary or corticotroph adenoma cells. All organoids cultures expressed mRNA of pituitary stem cell markers SOX2 and SOX9. This study shows that corticotroph adenomas can be cultured as tumoroids in vitro, something not previously published in any species. Based on the many opportunities in organoid culture (e.g., high-throughput drug screenings, gene editing, studying developmental processes), we expect that this in vitro model will pave the way to efficiently and reliably identify new treatment options for CD. Not only for humans, but also for our best friends: dogs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)A533-A533
JournalJournal of the Endocrine Society
Issue numberSupplement_1
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2021


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